By Courtney Davis
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Three letters. Big meaning. U.S.A.
For many young men around the nation, the dream of playing for Team USA ranks among the top, right next to the Major Leagues.
However, very few ever get to experience wearing the red, white and blue.
Unless your name is Chad Bettis.
Coming off a stellar sophomore season, where he led the Red Raiders pitching staff with an impressive 6-1 record along with seven saves and a 3.59 ERA on his way to an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection, the Lubbock native received the elite invitation to join the nation’s best at the Team USA team trials June 15-24 in Cary, N.C.
“Going into the trials, I really looked at it as a good experience and honor to have been invited,” Bettis said. “I really had no expectations except to take all I could from the trials and just throw as I always do.”
Instead of heading north to play summer ball in the coveted Cape Cod League, the junior right-handed pitcher remained at the USA Baseball Facility and immediately started play against the Canadian Junior National Team.
“When they called me in to inform me I made the team, it was so surreal,” Bettis said. “I was ecstatic. It felt great to have the chance to be a part of something that was bigger than yourself.”
With the selection, Bettis became the fifth player in school history to be named to the national team, joining Josh Bard (1997, ‘98), Monty Ward (1997), Shane Wright (1998) and Roger Kieschnick (2006, ‘07).
The nation’s best opened up the 2009 summer tour with a sweep of the Canadian Junior National team in a dominanting fashion, averaging a nine-run gap every game. Bettis saw action twice in the five-game series where he comfortably settled into his role as staff closer for Team USA.
Before heading overseas, Team USA faced continental opponent, Guatemala, in a four-game homestead. After winning 15-1 in the first game, Bettis and his team wrote their own part of history en route to a 10-0 shutout.
“Being able to be a part of the first collegiate no-hit shutout in our win over Guatemala had to be one of the best experiences of the summer,” Bettis said. “I came in to close that game and I didn’t get the save or anything, but it was even better to be a part of history with those guys.”
Just two days later, Team USA completed their sweep of Guatemala, capped off with an 18-1 win on July 4. This Independence Day was one he will never forget.
“After the game, we all sat on the field and watched as fireworks shot through the sky with the crowd chanting ‘U-S-A, U-S-A!’” Bettis said. “Wearing that Team USA jersey and hearing that, it is something I will never forget.”
The fireworks definitely left a spark in the Red Raider as he recorded his first two saves of the summer in the national team’s final back-to-back wins before heading overseas.
However, the experience was only the beginning as the team headed to Japan for the 37th USA vs. Japan Collegiate All-Star Championship to close out the summer tour.
Japan is not only on the other side of the world, their culture was a whole new world in itself.
“I was shell-shocked,” Bettis admitted. “Honestly, no one really talks to you. The Japanese have no sense of personal space. When we would get on buses and bullet trains, we were packed, shoulder-to-shoulder and people were just constantly in your face. It was definitely an adjustment for me.”
Nevertheless, the love for baseball spreads as far as the left field line so it took no time for the Americans to feel right at home with the Japanese hospitality.
“They definitely took care of us and I can only hope we take care of them the same way when they come over here,” Bettis said.
Bettis and Team USA opened up the All-Star Championship with a 3-0 win over the home team, as he earned his third save of the season after one inning of shutout work to secure the win.
But no win was easy in the foreign nation.
“Pitching in Japan had to have been one of the hardest experiences of the summer,” Bettis explained. “It was crazy. It was very home field advantage.”
In true Bettis fashion though, it was just another day on the mound. It failed to affect his performances, and it only made him stronger.
“I think it helped my mental side more than anything because I had to focus more on my goal and myself even more so than usual in order to fulfill my role,” Bettis said.
owever, Team USA would go on to finish the All-Star Championship with a disappointing 2-3 record after falling in the final game, 8-7.
With the summer coming to a close, the national team had one more order of business to take care of as the team stopped in British Columbia for the 2009 World Baseball Challenge in British Columbia.
As usual, Team USA made their presence known in their short five-day stay as they posted a 5-1 record en route to winning the 2009 World Baseball Challenge. Bettis closed the championship game against Germany, throwing one inning of shutout ball to close out the title game, 8-1. The team finished the summer tour with a 19-5 record while Bettis accumulated three saves and 11 strikeouts in nine appearances for the national team.
“My time with Team USA is something I will never forget,” Bettis said. “I learned a lot that will help me further my career and as I see it, this experience was just a big stepping stone to where I want to go in baseball.”