Team USA catcher A. J. Hinch calls the next two weeks the toughest part of the tour.
It's not just a matter of the United States playing against Cuba and Chinese-Taipei, the gold- and silver-medal winners, respectively, at the 1992 Olympics. It's a matter of concentration.
"It's at this time when it's the easiest to let down," said Hinch, who played this spring at Stanford. "Everyone is ready to go home at this point. Most of the guys haven't been home since Christmas. Hopefully we can maintain our success."
Team USA (21-6) has won five straight and has nine games left in its 13-city, 35-game tour. It plays tonight and tomorrow against Chinese-Taipei (Taiwan) at Prince George's County Stadium in Bowie.
"Our defense and pitching has been tremendous," Hinch said. "It's great going away from games positive. Pitching and defense win a lot of games. That has stuck out."
Winning builds confidence, but the primary reason for this tour is to develop a foundation of players for the 1996 Olympic team. And Hinch is a huge and unexpected asset.
Although only a junior with the Cardinal, Hinch is the most seasoned player on Team USA. He is the first player to be in the U.S. program for five summers.
In high school, Hinch was on the junior team in 1991 and 1992. For the past two years, he played for the senior squad, leading the 1993 team in batting.
An All-American and considered one of the top catching prospects in college, Hinch was projected as a first-round pick heading into the spring. However his stock dropped with the scouts after he didn't show the same overpowering ability to pull the ball and throw out runners as he did the previous season.
The Minnesota Twins selected Hinch in the third round, and Hinch must weigh signing against playing in the Olympics. He admits that if he had been a first-round selection, he probably wouldn't have thought about playing in the Olympics.
For now, Hinch's role is handling a freshman/sophomore-dominated pitching staff.
"We're developing into more of a team," Hinch said. "Basically, everyone was the top guy at his school this spring. We've adapted and grown together."
TEAM USA TOUR
What: Team USA plays Chinese-Taipei (Taiwan), the silver-medal winner at the 1992 Olympics, as a part of its 13-city, 35-game tour.
When: Tonight at 7:05 and tomorrow at noon
Where: Prince George's County Stadium, Bowie.