Cozart ready for USA trials

Zack Cozart would rather be in Nebraska. But North Carolina will have to do. The Rebels' all-star shortstop will try again, as he did last year, to make the USA National Team at trials which begin Thursday.

Zack Cozart was hoping to be a little late for the USA National Team baseball trials in North Carolina. They start on Thursday.

That's because the Rebels' sophomore shortstop had visions of playing in college baseball's national championship series in Omaha a week from this weekend.

The Rebels, whose season was ended by Miami last Monday night, would have played Oregon State today in their opener at the College World Series. Instead it's the Hurricanes who are there as the champions of the 2006 Oxford Super Regional.

Because of that, Cozart will now be on time for the trials. He isn't necessarily happy about that given what might have been for his team, but he's adjusting.

"We've played Texas and Miami the past two years in Super Regionals," Cozart said. "When you play teams like that, you have to play your best. It's disappointing not to still be playing."

Cozart will get the opportunity to overcome another disappointment from this time last year. He was an invitee to the USA trials as a freshman but wasn't selected. Now he goes back hoping to make the elite team.

"I felt I had a pretty good showing there last year," Cozart said. "I batted like .400 in 14 innings and did fine defensively. But you have to go out and do your best and leave the rest up to someone else."

Cozart, trying to become the first Ole Miss player on the USA team since Stephen Head and Seth Smith in the summer of 2003, said he learned a lot from last year's experience.

"I just learned you have to be yourself and not try to overly impress anybody," said the first-team All-SEC selection at short this season as well as a third-team All-America choice. "Just go out and relax and play. You're out there with a great bunch of players, so just go play your game. They invited you for a reason. If you weren't supposed to be there, they wouldn't have invited you."

The trials will feature 36 players - 20 were invited early along with Cozart - who will compete against teams from the New England Collegiate League in exhibition games from June 22 through July 1. The official 22-man roster will be announced on July 2. In July the team will play in Cuba.

"The National Team is defined by athlete performance in the college game," said USA Baseball General Manager of National Teams Eric Campbell. "This short list of invitees to the trials represents non-draft eligible players whose 2006 performance on the field has warranted an invite to the trials."

Cozart said he obviously is trying out at shortstop, but he could wind up at another position, like third base, if things work out that way. For now, just making the squad is his goal no matter where he's chosen.

"I feel I'm a better player this year and am better prepared," said the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder from Collierville (Tenn.) High, who just completed his second year with the Rebel program. "I'm just going over there and give it my best."

OM Spirit Top Stories