Golden summer for Rebs' Cozart

Zack Cozart made Team USA this summer after not being chosen at the trials last summer. He made the most of it as he and his countrymen brought home the gold medal from Cuba at the World Championships. Read more.....

Zack Cozart got this summer what he failed to get last summer.

Last summer the Rebel shortstop wasn't chosen to play for the USA national team. This summer that changed as Cozart made the roster.

Not only did he make the team, the junior from Collierville, Tenn., helped his team win a gold medal in the World Championships held in Havana, Cuba.

It was a special summer for the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder. It all started not too long after the Rebels were eliminated by Miami from moving on to the College World Series.

Cozart and a host of other invitees gathered in Durham, N.C., for the trials. On July 2 the team, filled with rising sophomore and junior collegiate players, was announced.

"It was a great experience," Cozart said of his summer with the USA ballclub. "It should help me be able to help the (Ole Miss) team this year. These are the caliber guys I'll be playing with and against in pro baseball someday."

No doubt that's the course Cozart is on. Professional baseball surely is in his future.

But for now, enjoying being a gold medalist and preparing for the upcoming Rebel season are all that's on his mind.

"It was a great thing representing your country," said Cozart, who played a little third base in the trials but was at his familiar spot at short throughout the summer season. "It's different than representing your university. It was great playing for the United States this summer and of course winning the gold medal. But it's still not ahead of my experience of playing at Ole Miss.

"In college you workout and practice and sweat and bond with your team so much more," he continued. "Of course you get to know a bunch of great guys (in the summer), and they are all good players. And winning the gold was special. But I can't say it would beat getting to Omaha."

Cozart was solid early in the summer season with Team USA, batting .370 and being his usual stellar self in the field. He cooled off to .220 for a time but picked it back up bigtime late.

"I batted .400 in Cuba," he said. "I played every day and wasn't switched out with any other teammates (at shortstop, as had been done some over the summer). We played nine games (in Cuba), and I played well the whole time."

USA didn't play Cuba, so many Cuban fans actually pulled for the Americans, according to Cozart.

"The people in Cuba love baseball, and they love good baseball," he said. "We were a good team, so they respected us and came out to watch us."

Cozart said the main thing he learned from his tryout last summer was just to be himself.

"I knew I had to relax and do what I could and just do my best," he said, "and that would be good enough. The coaches were familiar with me already, so they knew what I could do. That helped some, too."

Tim Corbin, the Vanderbilt head coach, was Team USA's head manager, and Tom Slater, the Auburn head coach, was an assistant.

The team played a lot of its games at the home of the Durham Bulls' AAA team. They also toured New England and played some games in Missouri. They played at a lot of minor league parks in North and South Carolina before heading to Cuba.

"Cuba was definitely a great experience," said Cozart, who noted the team was there for two weeks and gained a greater appreciation for living in the United States. "We basically overwhelmed the other teams with great pitching to win it."

Cozart was 2-for-2 with a couple of RBI in the championship game against Chinese Taipei, a 19-9 USA victory. In a 12-2 USA win earlier in the tournament, Chinese Taipei again felt the wrath of Cozart's bat as he hit a grand slam in the contest.

So he finished up his summer in fine fashion and believes it will carry over to his junior year (and perhaps his final one, depending on next June's draft) at Ole Miss.

"I feel I'll be more of a leader this year," he said. "I'm one of the older guys now. I know it's my time to lead. Hopefully I will do that in all aspects, both on and off the field."

If his golden summer is any indication, Cozart will certainly do just that.

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