Mayo Legion confident in face of Cuban contest


As a member of Arundel High School's baseball team that was voted No. 1 in the nation this spring, pitcher Brandon Agamennone isn't accustomed to entering a game he doesn't believe he can win.

Even when he's wearing the Mayo American Legion Post 226 uniform, that feeling doesn't change -- no matter the competition.

Agamennone's confidence is being put to the test this week, when Mayo takes on the Cuban Junior National 18-and-under baseball team at Joe Cannon Stadium in Harmans.

The game, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, kicks off the Cuban squad's first-ever tour of the U.S.

Considered by many people to be the best 18-and-under baseball team in the world, the Cubans also will visit Washington and Connecticut before making an appearance in the World Youth Championships in Windsor, Ontario.

The tour is sponsored by Intersport USA and is sanctioned by USA Baseball.

Agamennone, an All-Metro selection who helped Arundel win its sixth Class 4A state championship and earn the top ranking in Collegiate Baseball, says he isn't intimidated by the Cubans' reputation. Neither are his teammates, or the Mayo coaching staff.

Not that they don't have reason to fret. The Wildcats have heard about the Cubans' impressive credentials, which include being three-time world champions. The pitchers throw hard, they've been told, and the team is loaded with players whose athleticism is a sight to behold.

"It's going to be a great experience for us, to be involved with what I think is the best amateur baseball team in the world," said Mayo coach Bernie Walter. "We're going to have to play our best game to have any chance at all. But it's one game, so you just don't know.

"They're certainly worth seeing. The way Cuba builds its amateur baseball program is a model for the world."

Walter has coached against the Cubans before, including 1988, when Team USA won the world championship in Sydney, Australia. His lifetime record against them is 2-2.

Players like Agamennone -- who most likely will be the starting pitcher -- believe that Walter soon will be adding another victory to the ledger.

"I really think we can beat them," he said. "We'll just go in there positive about it."

A director from Intersport USA first approached Walter about arranging a game between the Cubans and Arundel, but was told that couldn't happen. "I said 'no,' but the legion team would be glad to play," Walter said.

The game is a pleasant diversion for a Mayo team that competes nightly and is preparing for next month's American Legion state tournament in Frederick.

"This will be a good experience, to see if what we have on this team is really what we think we have," said third baseman/pitcher Brian Sands.

"This team doesn't have any quit in it."

First baseman/pitcher Tim Giles, who was drafted by the Orioles last month in the 43rd round, said, "I know we have a chance. We can beat them."

Mayo's rosy outlook can be attributed, in part, to a 5-0 victory over Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, in the American Legion All-Star Tournament in Binghamton, N.Y., earlier this month. The Wildcats weren't given much of a chance to win that game, either.

"We're approaching this one the same way," said assistant coach John Hall. "We have the same quality players as [the Cubans]; I really believe that. It's a matter of not being intimidated just because they're from another country."

Mayo usually is the team doing all the intimidating. The Wildcats, who won their 50th game of the summer last week, were crowned American Legion national champions in 1990.

In his first five seasons as Mayo coach, Walter's teams were 260-84.

This year's squad is comprised mainly of players from state-champion Arundel and Region IV-finalist Old Mill. Winning comes naturally for this bunch.

Nothing much is at stake against the Cubans -- far more important games lie ahead -- but you wouldn't know it by listening to the Wildcats.

"It's an exhibition," Hall said, "but we want to win this ballgame."

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