George Horton was headed to Dodger Stadium on a bus with the USA Baseball Collegiate National team, but he felt as though he was in another Southern California landmark.
“It’s like being in Disneyland,” the Oregon baseball coach said. “Aside from my faith and my family, it doesn’t get much better than this. My staff is all old friends and colleagues, and we have arguably the best players in America.”
Horton’s national team played its fifth and final exhibition game against teams from the California Collegiate League on Saturday before traveling to Taiwan, Japan and Cuba for an international friendship series.
“This is one of the most special tours in the recent history of the team,” Horton said. “Three awesome and challenging environments. To go in there and win would be a difficult thing.”
Team USA will play a five-game series against Chinese Taipei from Tuesday to July 9 in Taipei and Hsinchu, Taiwan, before facing Japan for five games from July 12-17 in Niigata, Tokyo and Shizuoka. The tour concludes with a series against Cuba in Ciego de Avila, Havana and Pinar del Rio from July 23-27.
Horton’s club opened its exhibition schedule with a 10-6 victory over the Santa Barbara Foresters on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium.
“I had a little bit of a tear in my eye,” Horton said. “Just reflecting on when George Horton was a little boy, I was sitting in that pavilion watching Sandy Koufax, Willie Davis and Maury Wills, and then the blessings the good Lord has given me, to be standing in Dodger Stadium in a USA uniform with America’s finest players and that anthem brought tears to my eyes.
“And then to have my wife, my oldest daughter and my grandkids in the stands made it all the more special on a personal level.”
Horton had 31 players on his roster that features the top freshmen and sophomores in the nation, but he’ll take only 26 players on the trip to Taiwan and then 24 to the final two series.
“Having to cut some of the best players in America is not easy,” Horton said. “It’s exciting for kids to make this team for their draft stock and experience and all those things.”
David Peterson, who went 4-5 with a 3.63 ERA in 13 starts this spring for Oregon, is on the pitching staff.
“It’s good for David; he earned this,” Horton said. “I hope he will take full advantage.”
The only other Pac-12 player on the roster is Oregon State first baseman K.J. Harrison, who is on the team for the second consecutive year. Harrison batted .256 with 10 homers and a conference-leading 47 RBIs this season.
“He is a neat kid and another Oregonian,” Horton said. “That might be a rival school, but now he’s on my team and I commend him.”
Horton’s coaching staff includes Oregon assistant Mitch Karraker and Loyola Marymount coach Jason Gill, a former assistant for the Ducks.
Former Oregon assistant Mark Wasikowski, who was hired last month as head coach at Purdue, said that coaching the national team was a position earned by Horton, who served as an assistant in 2012.
“If he’s good enough to coach Team USA, that’s a special coach to play for,” Wasikowski said.
Steve Mims, The Register-Guard
July 3, 2016