Mark Teixeira is probably the best amateur baseball player in the United States. While Georgia Tech fell two wins short of the College World Series, he was still in Omaha yesterday, accepting the latest of his national Player of the Year awards. He just completed his sophomore season, so Teixeira could be the No. 1 selection in the 2001 draft.
In the past, a player of his talent would have been a shoo-in for U.S. Olympic teams, but Teixeira sounds prepared to spend September in Atlanta instead of Sydney, Australia.
In late 1998, the International Baseball Association voted to open the Olympics to professionals. USA Baseball sent what amounted to a college all-star team to the previous four Games, but this time anyone who isn't on a major-league 40-man roster as of Sept. 1 is eligible. The United States will emphasize Triple-A and Double-A talent, but instead of a peek at future stars on MSNBC, its games might fit better on ESPN Classic.
Tommy Lasorda will manage the U.S. team. Wade Boggs has expressed an interest in wearing the red, white and blue. So have Willie McGee, Tim Raines and Gary Gaetti.
So much for the Olympics celebrating youth.
When pro basketball players joined the Olympics in 1992, Christian Laettner was added to the Dream Team, albeit after he had completed his eligibility at Duke.
There may be no such bone thrown to the NCAA this time. The United States has a bronze medal to show for the past two Olympics, and Lasorda said he "is not going to go 6,000 miles to lose." If Teixeira, a third baseman who hits for average and power, is going to make the Olympic team, it would be on merit more than politics.
"One of the reasons I came to school was the chance to play college baseball and to have the chance to play in the Olympics, as well," Teixeira said recently. "Hopefully, I'll make an impression. If they have an opening, I'd love to go. If they don't, it's out of my hands."
Teixeira, a 20-year-old from Severna Park, compiled one of the best batting records ever by a local high school player while at Mount St. Joseph. This season, he led the Atlantic Coast Conference with a .427 batting average and 18 home runs, and was second in the conference with 80 RBIs.
Teixeira will be in Tucson, Ariz., later this week, trying out for the national team, but it's a given that he'll be on that college all-star team. It will barnstorm the United States, then play a tournament in The Netherlands in August. Under the old rules, that team would then have gone to the Olympics.
Lasorda and representatives from Major League Baseball who will select the 24-man U.S. team are tight-lipped about a pool of prospects that numbers in the hundreds. The executive director of USA Baseball, the national governing body, was not.
"Mark Teixeira is the name," said Paul Seiler, when asked if any collegians might be included. "USA Baseball will be able to keep a very close eye on him this summer."
When baseball returned to the Olympics in 1984 after a 20-year absence, the U.S. roster included B. J. Surhoff, Will Clark and Mark McGwire. LSU's Ben McDonald and Michigan's Jim Abbott pitched the Americans to a gold medal in 1988.
The 1992 team included Stanford's Jeffrey Hammonds and Georgia Tech's Jason Varitek and Nomar Garciaparra.
Teixeira wants to join them. The fall semester begins Aug. 21, but he's a management major with a laptop, an Academic All-American who can do schoolwork online. Besides, since Georgia Tech was a venue in 1996, it appreciates the Olympics.
Teixeira is hardly the first who could miss out on the experience, since the eligibility of most college stars doesn't jibe with the four-year Olympic cycle. Seiler said that the Olympic clock is simply being backed up for this crop of collegians, but Teixeira plans to be in the big leagues in 2004, not the minors.
To preserve the integrity of pennant races - and ticket prices - major-leaguers are not in the U.S. player pool, so how about another radical change to Olympic baseball?
Since basketball has long been part of the Summer Olympics, put baseball on the winter program. Include a domed stadium in the budget, and await a real World Series once every four years, in January or February.
Working out West
Timonium's Beth Botsford will mount the defense of her Olympic title in the 100-meter backstroke from Tucson.
Botsford, who turned 19 last month, developed into a world-class talent while a member of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club and was the first American woman to win a gold medal in Atlanta in 1996. She graduated from Garrison Forest School last year, then headed to the University of Arizona.
Her recruiting class included Amanda Beard, a fellow gold medalist who remains one of the nation's best breaststrokers. They led the Wildcats to a second place in the NCAA championships, where Botsford bettered her American record in the 200 backstroke. The time of 2:06.70 was .61 seconds off of the short-course world record.
"Beth isn't thinking about records. She just wants to be the best three months from now," Arizona coach Frank Busch said last week.
The Pontiac Grand Prix Invitational track and field meet at N.C. State next Saturday will revolve around the women's long jump, where Marion Jones will try to smooth out an approach that is the biggest obstacle to her winning five gold medals. Columbia's Matt Holthaus is in a pretty good 1,500 field. ... The public sale of tickets for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City will begin in October. For ticket ticket information: www.saltlake2002.com.