TAMPA — It didn't take long for Jesuit shortstop and right-handed pitcher Lance McCullers to realize the magnitude of representing his country.
Just two days after he was named to the USA 18-and-under national team, McCullers was sightseeing with his new teammates in Washington when strangers — seeing him decked in his new Team USA gear — approached and asked for his autograph,
McCullers, a Times All-Suncoast first-team selection, was one of 20 players selected for the team after a week of trials last week in Cary, N.C. He earned his way to the trial with his play in the Tournament of Stars, an invitation-only event that featured the top high school players in the nation.
The USA 18U National Team will play in the IBAF (AAA) World Championship at Port Arthur Stadium in Thunder Bay, Canada, from July 23 to Aug. 1.
"It's great to represent my country," McCullers said. "That's the highlight of this whole experience."
Not only is McCullers one of just three players selected from Florida, the 16-year-old is one of just two rising juniors to make the team (outfielder Albert Almora of Hialeah Mater Academy was the other). The other members of the team just graduated or will be seniors in the fall.
"At first I really didn't know what to expect, but I tried to go out there and hustle," McCullers said. "I took the extra base. I laid down the bunts. I think I hit well and I pitched well. I just tried to stay within myself."
McCullers' flexibility definitely helped him make the team. He said among the pitching staff, all but four are also position players.
"I think it definitely benefitted me," he said.
Before the World Championships, the national team is embarking on a schedule of 14 exhibition games in New York and Minnesota. They began Tuesday in Brooklyn, N.Y. against the Greater N.Y. Alliance All-Stars.
McCullers made his first appearance in a Team USA uniform Wednesday, pitching a perfect relief inning in just 11 pitches in a 9-0 victory over Greater New York.
During the high school season, McCullers hit .457 with eight doubles, four triples, two homers and 30 RBIs and was 2-0 with three saves, a 0.39 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 18 innings pitched this past spring, helping Jesuit to the Class 4A state title game.
Last year, McCullers was the MaxPreps Freshman of the Year. Baseball America has ranked McCullers the nation's No. 2 prospect from the Class of 2012.