The 35 days Creighton coach Ed Servais spent this summer with the U.S. national team expanded his baseball knowledge.
His players can rest easy that he’s not planning on implementing everything he learned. If so, their workload likely would increase after what Servais observed during the competition against the Japanese and Cuban national teams.
In Japan, Servais saw relief pitchers that threw every day, including warming up on the sidelines during games. The Japanese and Cuban players go through pregame stretching drills that are more akin to conditioning workouts.
“Our players sometimes think our program is very structured,” Servais said. “It is, but so are the Japanese program and the Cuban program. And that’s a reason why those guys are so successful.”
Servais is taking bits and pieces of what he learned, both from the international teams and from his fellow U.S. coaches, and mixing them into Creighton’s fall workouts. The Bluejays are about two weeks into fall practice.
“There are two or three things that we’ve changed in some our defensive schemes,” Servais said. “You’re not going to see a tremendous change in how we do things at Creighton, but it’s just little things that I learned, and it was one of the reasons I wanted to do this.
“I was hoping to get better, and I think I came back with some of the things that will make us better.”
Servais served as the first-base coach as well as the defensive coach on manager Jim Schlossnagle’s staff. Schlossnagle, the head coach at Texas Christian, also was assisted by Tim Esmay of Arizona State and Mike Bianco of Mississippi.
The national team compiled a 20-3 record that included a five-game sweep of its series against the Cuban team and a 2-3 mark against the Japanese.
“It was a tremendous experience, one that I was fortunate to be a part of,” Servais said.
Servais especially cherished the nine days the U.S. team spent in Japan.
“The people in Japan were outstanding, and the baseball was outstanding,” Servais said. “It was fun to watch the Japanese team go about its business. And the fans there are different than fans here. They chant and cheer and have bands, and it’s more of a football-type atmosphere than what we’re accustomed to.
“All in all, I came away with a tremendous respect for the culture and for the people. They’re hard-working and very dedicated, and it was an eye-opener for myself and for our players.”
The language barrier prevented Servais from getting as much information as he would have liked from the Japanese coaches, but he was intrigued by the players’ work ethic and approach to the game.
“The Japanese have a reputation for being very good at throwing, not only their pitchers but their position players,” he said. “I was very impressed with how much throwing they do over there. They warm up a pitcher every inning, even when the starter goes out there to warm up before the game.
“They throw a ton and they seem not to have as many arm issues. I really enjoyed watching them take pregame infield — it was very sharp — and they play with a lot of enthusiasm. That’s something I encourage our players to do.”
The series against the Cubans was played in the U.S., with two of the games at Werner Park. While the Japanese players were the same age as their American counterparts, many of the Cuban players were older.
Servais came away impressed with the athleticism of the Cubans.
“Their infield play was phenomenal,” he said. “They made hard plays look really, really easy. I became a fan of just how athletic they were.”
The first-ever series sweep of the Cubans proved to be the highlight of the summer for the U.S. team. The lowlight? Let’s just say none of the players and coaches will be requesting the Village People’s “YMCA” anytime soon.
“The Japanese tried so hard to make it a neat experience for our players,” Servais said. “At one of our games, the band played that ‘YMCA’ song for like two hours. The players came off the field saying that if they ever heard that song again it would be too soon.
“You could tell that wasn’t the kind of music they normally play, but they really went above and beyond to make it a special experience.”