Outfielder Albert Almora has heard his share of heckling during his time with USA baseball.
Pick a language and chances are the Mater (Hialeah, Fla.) senior has heard it screamed from the stands during his six years associated with the national team.
“You can go down the list,” said Almora, who has been to five different countries in a USA jersey. “Everyone goes after us. We are considered the bad ones. In baseball, everyone wants to beat us.”
Almora does not expect that to change when he and the USA 18U National Team travel to Colombia this week to play in the COPABE AAA/18U Pan American Championships.
“We are the ones with the target on our back all the time,” pitcher Carson Kelly said. “But I’d rather have the target than be the one chasing the target.”
Holding the bow and arrow will be teams from Puerto Rico, Argentina, Aruba, Guatemala, Mexico and Colombia during an 11-day tournament in the beach resort town of Cartagena.
The Americans, who are the two-time defending gold medalists at the 18U Pan Am Games, will feature a roster full of future first-round MLB draft choices and Division-1 college stars.
“This has to be the best team I have played for,” outfielder Jesse Winker said. “When you look at our outfield, our infield and our pitching staff -- it’s all top tier. We are meshing very well. No conflicts. No flaws. We have everything good.”
Including experienced leadership on the dugout steps.
Enter former Major League Baseball player Scott Brosius who will manage the team this year, his first with USA baseball.
Brosius is no stranger to big-time atmospheres. He has played in multiple World Series games and has stepped into many tough, hostile environments during his time with the love-hate New York Yankees.
“As a player I got to play in the World Series and some other really big games with big atmospheres,” he said. “But (managing Team USA) will be a highlight for me. This is an achievement I will look back on and be really excited about. I am excited for the players more because this is a wonderful opportunity.”
The trip overseas, from a baseball standpoint, will be new to Brosius, who never played international baseball at any level during his playing days.
“Like many of these players I will have to adapt to the environment also,” he said. “It will be a learning, new experience for a lot of us.”
But for players like Almora, it will be just another colorful stamp in his passport. His veteran experience of playing baseball in different countries will be valuable for Team USA when they step on South American soil.
“A lot of guys have asked me about the environment and what to expect,” he said. “I just tell them it’s just like any other baseball game. It’s the same rules.”
His best slice of advice?
“Just don’t listen to the fans,” he said. “The fans all day and all night will try and get in your ear and throw you off. Even Canada, our sister country, roots against us. Just don’t listen.”
Winker, a senior who stars at Olympia (Windermere, Fla.), will be making his first international appearance with cleats on.
But the University of Florida commit is not worried about fan heckling.
“I just don’t let myself listen to the crowd,” he said. “At the end of the day you have to realize it’s just a ball coming out of hand that you need to hit and a ball in the air that you need to catch.”
Adapting to the fans isn’t the only issue when playing internationally. Players still have to eat.
Kelly, a senior at Westview (Portland, Ore.), was one of the members on last season’s 18U national team to travel to Mexico. He remembers his food options vividly.
“Man, it was tough,” he said with a laugh. “It seemed like we ate bread for breakfast, bread for lunch and bread for dinner. The food just didn’t look good. I think I even had cereal for dinner a few times.”
When told of a Colombian famous dish called La Lechona, a roasted whole pig stuffed with vegetables, Kelly laughed and was quick to answer.
“Wow,” he said. “I have to try that. Well, maybe I will try that.”
But cleaning off a plate of traditional Colombian cuisine is not what is on Kelly or the rest of the team’s minds.
The plan is finishing the tournament with a clean, perfect record capped off with the sweet taste of a gold medal.
“We aren’t thinking about the food or anything like that,” Winker said. “I know I’m looking forward to one thing.”
Is it the beautiful beaches?
“It’s the dog pile I jump onto when we win gold,” he said. “That’s our mission. That’s our vision.”
Nov. 18 vs. Puerto Rico
Nov. 19 vs. Argentina
Nov. 20 vs. Aruba
Nov. 21 vs. Guatemala
Nov. 22 vs. Mexico
Nov. 23 vs. Colombia
Nov. 25-27: Second round/crossover games
Player, Position, Hometown
Albert Almora, OF, Hialeah, Fla.
Alex Bregman, IF, Albuquerque, N.M.
Gavin Cecchini, IF, Lake Charles, La.
Troy Conyers, LHP, Lakeside, Calif.
David Dahl, OF, Birmingham Ala.
Chase DeJong, RHP, Long Beach, Calif.
Carson Fulmer, RHP, Lakeland, Fla.
Joey Gallo, IF/RHP, Las Vegas, Nev.
Cole Irvin, LHP, Anaheim, Calif.
Carson Kelly, IF/RHP, Portland, Ore.
Jeremy Martinez, C, Fountain Valley, Calif.
Chris Okey, C, Mt. Dora, Fla.
Nick Travieso, RHP, Pembroke Pines, Fla.
Nelson Rodriguez, C, New York, N.Y
Addison Russell, IF, Pace, Fla.
Clate Schmidt, RHP, Acworth, Ga.
Hunter Virant, LHP, Camarillo, Calif.
Walker Weickel, RHP, Orlando, Fla.
Mikey White, IF, Hoover, Ala.
Jesse Winker, OF, Windermere, Fla.