Two Gators Enjoy Experience of a Lifetime

It didn't take Nolan Fontana and Brian Johnson long to realize they weren't in America anymore. They spent the summer playing for the collegiate Team USA, spending the final two weeks in Asia winning a silver medal. However, it's the food that ended on their plate that was one of the most memorable parts.

"Sushi there is way different," Fontana. "It's like they caught the fish, chopped it up and just gave it to you over there. That wasn't for me at all."

The team was made up of 22 collegiate underclassmen after being narrowed down from the 39-man tryout. Fontana and Johnson were the only two freshmen on the team.

"It's not just playing for another team," Fontana said. "It's playing for your country. That made it even more exciting. You put on that USA jersey and it takes your breath away."

Their summer season started in Cary, N.C. at the USA Baseball training facility. July 14-18 the team played Korea in different cities in North Carolina. The team then flew to Omaha, where Johnson and Fontana had played in the College World Series only a month earlier, to play three scrimmages from July 21-25.

They flew to Taipei, Taiwan, where Team USA split a four-game series against Taiwan. From there, it was on to Toyko, Japan, where the FISU World University Baseball Championships began July 30.

"It was a once in a lifetime experience," Johnson said. "Not many people get to go over there, but we get to go over there and play baseball."

Team USA faced Cuba in the gold medal game on August 7. The game went into extra innings tied at one. Team USA pushed across two runs in the top of the 10th inning, with Fontana scoring the second run on an RBI single from Cal State Fullerton's Nick Ramirez.

Ramirez then went to the mound to finish the game, but gave up a three-run, walk-off home run to Cuba's Alfredo Despaigne. The silver medal wasn't what the USA wanted, but the memories they will take from the event override what place they came in.

"The baseball was great," Fontana said. "It was a heck of an experience that I would love to do again next year."

Fontana hit .250 with a double and three RBI in 44 at-bats. He also walked 16 times.

Johnson threw 14.1 innings, going 1-0 with a 0.63 ERA and one save. He allowed only six hits, five walks and struck out 16 hitters. Johnson allowed only one extra-base hit.

The walk numbers were higher than Johnson wanted, but they came because of a different approach from Japanese hitters.

"They know the strike zone really well," Johnson said. "They don't swing at balls. They'll fight you off until they get the pitch they want. It's a grind every at-bat."

The trip also allowed Johnson to see how pitchers can vary their routines and still have success. American pitchers are taught that if they pitch that night, they should rest their arm during the day. Japanese pitchers are different.

"The pitchers over there throw a bullpen before they throw at night," Johnson said. "They come in at 11 (in the morning) and throw a bullpen before they pitch at seven (at night). It's a lot different."
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