Zack Cozart was invited to the trials for the USA Baseball National Team earlier this summer but didn't get selected. He should have, based on what I heard from the trials.
That's also based on what I saw last spring from the sophomore-to-be shortstop for Ole Miss.
Cozart faced some stiff competition for the position on the squad, which was chosen by several college coaches. But when he didn't make the team, which traveled and played games as the summer moved on, the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder simply chalked it up as a positive few days and refocused on getting ready for the upcoming season.
"It was a great experience," said Cozart, who batted .281 with 9 home runs, 16 doubles and a triple as a freshman. "There were excellent players there. The caliber of players that were there and facing them will only help me out in the future."
Cozart says of course he would like to have made the team, but he has no regrets on how things turned out as he looks back.
"It was an honor being invited," he said, "and I did the best I could. That's really all I could ask for."
There were four shortstops at the trials. Actually two of them ended up being moved to second base with Cozart and another player staying at shortstop. In a strange twist of events, neither shortstop candidate got chosen, and the two second basemen were chosen to play second and short.
"I felt like we (the two shortstops) did the best of all of them," he said. "But that's just how it goes sometimes in situations like that."
This USA National Team is for freshmen and sophomores in college. It's the team that Stephen Head and Seth Smith played on two summers ago.
"This year's team played in Japan and Taiwan," Cozart said. "Right now they are playing in New York and other places in the United States."
Cozart says he hopes to get another invitation next season, which of course would be his last opportunity to play for this particular team.
"If I have a good season in the spring, then hopefully I will get invited back," said Cozart, probably known more for his glove and defense than his hitting as a freshman. "The coaches watch as the season goes on and then make their selections as to who goes to the trials."
Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn was one of the coaches on the staff this year. Having an SEC head coach as one of the team's coaches helps, according to Cozart.
"As you play your season, those coaches on the staff watch for players they want to invite," he said. "When you play their team, obviously they watch you. I did good when we played at Arkansas and we swept them. I hit two home runs in one game, and he said he liked my all-out hustle. That's why he liked me. I don't want to say it's the luck of the draw, but it does also help to be playing in a major conference like the SEC to be selected."
Cozart took some time off after the trials. He went home to Collierville, Tenn., and spent some time with his family. Then he returned to Oxford to help with Ole Miss baseball camps and to work out.
Cozart, who throws right and bats right, says he wants to improve every area of his game this fall so 2006 can be an even better season for him.
"I want to keep improving my defense and working with Coach (Dan) McDonnell on that," he said. "The main thing I need to work on is at the plate. I believe my power was fine this year. I just want to work on getting my average up. Coach (Mike) Bianco says he believes I can be a .350 hitter with 15 home runs this season.
"I also have been doing some speed drills to work on that area. I have been working on quick feet drills and explosion drills. Power cleans (in the weight room) are another good thing for that. We work on that by running like 20-yard sprints and moving fast. I know if I get my speed up, I will be that much better."
Cozart knows he will be a player that is called on to not only step up his game but also his leadership.
"I'm ready to start now," said Cozart, who was named to the All-SEC Freshman team following this past season. "We're going to be good again this year. We've got some new players coming in to help fill some spots left by the players who are gone. So we're looking forward to seeing how things will go.
"We lost so many leaders and older guys. It's up to people like myself and Chris Coghlan and others who have already been here to step up. There will be a lot of new kids coming in. We want to help them feel at home just like Stephen Head and Brian Pettway and others did when I got here. I felt like this was where I belonged, and I had friends as soon as I got here. If they feel comfortable, they'll be fine when they get out on the field."
Cozart looks ahead to more success with Rebs
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