When Wright State baseball coach Rob Cooper first put on the Team USA uniform as an assistant coach six years ago, a fellow coach told him the national anthem would sound different. The uniform just brought more meaning to what he was doing.
Cooper soon will put on the national uniform again. He was named head coach of the 18-and-under national team on Sunday and will make his Team USA managerial debut at the International Baseball Federation 18-U World Championships this summer.
“I’m beyond humbled and every excited and honored to do it,” Cooper said. “It’s one of those things I’ve always wanted to do as a coach. To be the head coach of a USA team, to me it’s the pinnacle of what you’re doing.”
Cooper was an assistant coach on the 2007 and 2009 collegiate national teams. His ninth season at Wright State has already begun as the Raiders began individual workouts this week.
Cooper said his job with the national team will begin in June in Cary, N.C. A group of 100 players will try out for the team and be cut down to 40. At the end of August, that group will be trimmed again to the final roster of 20 players.
Cooper will have plenty of help figuring out what 20 players to pick.
“There’s only game going on, and you’ve got a lot of eyes on it,” he said. “There’s myself and three other coaches on the staff. It’s not an exact science, but we’re going to do our best.”
Cooper’s first experience with the national team came when he was coaching at Sacramento City College. He went to Joplin, Mo., to help pick the players for the 18-U team. While there, he coached one of the teams and had a young catcher named Joe Mauer on his team.
Last year, Cooper coached at the 17-U National Team Development Program and got to know many of the players who will be trying out for this year’s 18-U team.
Of course, with this job comes some pressure. The 18-U team has won back-to-back gold medals.
“All I can do is screw it up,” Cooper joked. “It’s our pastime. Obviously, we want to go out and show the United States is very good at it. Our goal is to put out our best group.”
Before he gets to work with the national team, Cooper will concentrate on Wright State’s season. The Raiders start the season Feb. 15 against Temple with the first of four games at the Team USA complex in Cary. Their early-season schedule also includes three games at Clemson and three at UCLA.
Wright State’s home opener on its new turf is Feb. 26 against Xavier.
“I like our team as far as how hard they’re working, their energy and their commitment to each other,” Cooper said. “We’ve got some questions to answer. Who’s going to have what role? Who’s going to do what? I think we can be pretty good. It’s going to take us a little while to find our legs.”
The Raiders finished 37-21 last season. They were on top of the Horizon League all season last year until they were swept by Milwaukee in the final series. Then they were eliminated by Youngstown State in the third game of the conference tournament.
“I think there are some guys who didn’t like the way it ended last year,” Cooper said. “But it’s a different group. It’s not last year. All they can take care of is what’s in front of them.”