Southwestern Community College athletic director Bill Krejci recently returned from an excursion to Chinese Taipei with USA Baseball, where he served as the general manager for the 12U national team.
The United States won the gold medal in the event, which was the first time the United States had competed with a 12U team.
“This is the first competition we’ve ever been in,” Krejci said. “So it was a new experience for everybody. The coaches had coached 14-year-olds, but never 12-year-olds. The whole venue was different — shorter bases, shorter pitching mound, smaller field, smaller kids. The whole thing. It was a new adventure for USA Baseball.”
But, the group of players Krejci took to Chinese Taipei with him performed like seasoned veterans in international competition, losing just one game during pool play on its way to the gold medal against Chinese Taipei in front of 10,500 fans in the championship game.
Krejci said he, along with the coaches, continually reminded the players of why they were going to Chinese Taipei — to represent the United States and to win a gold medal.
“It took a while for them to grasp the enormity of it,” he said. “They had been on all-star teams all their young lives, and traveled around the United States on club teams. We kept reiterating the importance of representing your country, wearing the USA across your chest. They finally got it.”
Before leaving for Chinese Taipei, USA Baseball alums Brandon League and J.P. Howell of the Los Angeles Dodgers recorded a video message for the players talking about the experience.
USA Baseball also brought in a sergeant major from the United States military to speak to the players about the flag and the importance of the United States of America.
Cory Hahn, who played for USA Baseball in 2009 as a starting outfielder and went on to Arizona State University, where he suffered a spinal cord injury just two weeks into the fall and now relegated to using a wheelchair, also spoke to the players.
“I think, probably five or six games into the whole package, they finally got it,” Krejci said. “They finally got how important it was to wear the flag across the shoulder, to wear the USA across the chest. And when we won, there was excitement, but it was kind of humble excitement. It wasn’t a typical Little League experience. I think they grew a lot in that process, and there was a lot of responsibility for those kids they hadn’t had before.”
As general manager for the team, Krejci’s responsibilities were less on the field and more logistic in nature.
Krejci was left in charge of getting the players to Los Angeles, making sure they made it onto the plane, getting the players passports and getting them through customs.
He was also in charge of getting the players up in the mornings, doing laundry and acting as a buffer between the players and their parents and family members.
“We had 41 parents and family members that went to Chinese Taipei with us,” Krejci said. “Keeping them at bay and letting them come and certain times. Keeping these kids somewhat cloistered so that their idea is to win the gold medal.
“Obviously, we spoke a lot to them and I spoke to them about why we’re here,” he continued. “Yeah, there’s some sightseeing done, some hanging out with your parents, but the main reason is to win the gold medal and represent the United States in baseball in a foreign country.”
Krejci said he was with the players 24 hours a day, seven days a week while on the trip. If the players were at the game, he was at the game. If the players were at the hotel, he was at the hotel. If the players were eating dinner, he was eating dinner. And, if the players were sleeping, he was sleeping.
Krejci couldn’t have asked for a better experience.
“It was probably one of the greatest experiences of my baseball career in that the tournament, the venue, the people, and I’ve never been to the Far East, so that was kind of neat,” he said. “It was a great experience. The IBAF, which runs this tournament, did a great job of organizing it — having us where we needed to be, buses, food, accommodations, fields — everything was really good.”
Initially, Krejci wasn’t sure how he’d react to working with a group of 12-year-olds, after spending much of his career working with college athletes and 16 and 18-year-olds.
“I was kind of wondering, how am I going to react to 12-year-old kids?” he said. “I was the general manager, so I had to take care of a lot of logistics. Of course, 12-year-olds logistically is a little bit harder than 16-year-olds or 18-year-olds, because you’ve got to tell them 48 times before they do it once. But they were really good. They kind of finally got used to my gruffness and went from there.
“The kids were terrific,” he continued. “I don’t think they ever got tired of playing, which was neat. Of course, they’re 12-year-olds, why would they?”
And, of course, coming home with a gold medal while representing the United States was a good feeling, as well.
“It feels good for USA Baseball,” Krejci said. “Every time I do this, and I mentioned this to the kids and parents, it started in 1996 and it still excites me as it did in ‘96 when they first asked me and I went to Canada and Venezuela. It’s an honor to go abroad and represent your country in a game we love, at least I love. It was a lot of fun. It was a great, great experience.”