DURHAM, N.C. - Sixteen cities, five states and two countries in a 43-day stretch. It was a pretty busy summer for junior Grayson Greiner, who was the starting catcher for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. After having to turn down an invitation to play for the Stars and Stripes a year ago, Greiner traveled the United States and Japan this summer for a whirlwind tour of baseball.
Almost immediately after the conclusion of his sophomore season at South Carolina, Greiner packed his gear and made the three-hour drive to Cary, N.C., home of USA Baseball. The Gamecocks star was one of 23 standouts from across the nation. Most were rising juniors with a couple of players who just finished their first year of college sprinkled in.
N.C. State pitcher Carlos Rodon, expected to be one of the first few picks in next year’s draft was on the staff. Pitcher Tyler Beede, who turned down a couple million dollars to play college baseball at Vanderbilt, was on the roster. Familiar faces like All-SEC players Austin Cousino from Kentucky and Alex Bregman from LSU helped to fill out the team.
Greiner was among the best and he eventually proved he was one of the best.
The experience started like it does for many college baseball players - sweating it out on a not-quite-top-of-the-line bus with players riding two to a seat driving from small town to small town to play Coastal Plains League teams.
Team USA took on seven CPL teams and two summer all-star teams compiling a perfect 10-0 record.
“It wasn’t too glamorous the first couple of weeks,” Greiner said.
After that, it started to feel more like a Team USA experience. Greiner and the rest of the squad traveled to Japan for a five-game series against the Japan Collegiate All-Stars. It has been over 40 years since Team USA took the series and the streak wouldn’t break this year after a Game 5 loss.
The team returned home though to win a few games in Chicago, Ill., before taking on Cuba in a best of five game series. For the first time in Team USA baseball history, they swept their island visitors.
Junior catcher Grayson Greiner watches a celebratory fireworks show after a five-game sweep of Cuba to finish off his Team USA experience
The on-field games will be memorable for Greiner, but what he will always take with him were the bonds he made off the field.
“It’s been the best experience of my life, baseball wise,” Greiner said. “From meeting Orlando Hudson and talking to Bobby Valentine - everything that goes along with actually playing the game. From the coaches to my teammates, all of that outside the white lines makes it that much more special. The fact we did things that have never been done in USA baseball, it’s just hard to put it all into words.”
In the 18 games prior to the series against Cuba, Greiner started 11 games behind the plate and hit .324 with two doubles, a home run and seven RBIs. He walked six times and struck out nine.
The series against Cuba was rough for Greiner, just as it was for the rest of the team. Despite sweeping the Cubans, Team USA hit just .174 and scored only 14 runs.
Greiner was hitless against Cuba until his last at-bat when he knocked a solid single to left field. He also had a walk in the game and he finished his summer with a .255 batting average with a home run and eight RBIs.
“Hearing the U-S-A chant with two outs and two strikes in the ninth, it makes it all worth it,” Greiner said, following the game at the Durham Bulls stadium. “I may not get a chance to wear the USA on my chest again. I played every pitch like it was my last one.”
Greiner helped lead the team to a 20-3 overall record with all three of the losses coming to Japan.
While the Blythewood High School product said he’s never been more confident in his abilities, especially defensively, what he hopes to bring back from his experience is being more of a leader.
“It helped me elevate my game and realize I belong a little bit,” Greiner said of his Team USA experience. “I felt like I held my own ground against Japan, Cuba and the best players in the country. Hopefully I can take that confidence in and take more of a leadership role next season. I want to be a guy that players look to when things start getting tough and have more of a leadership role than I have the last few years.”
After 16 cities, five states and two countries in a 43-day stretch, the baseball, the leadership role, and everything else can be put on hold for a short time until school starts back.
“I’m gonna take a nice little break.”
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