Shane Baz has had a pretty good couple days.
Tuesday, the Durham right-hander was named Triple-A East league pitcher of the week for his outstanding work shortly after his promotion from Double-A.
Wednesday, he was chosen to play in the All-Star Futures Game in Denver.
And Friday, biggest of all, the 22-year-old was announced as a member of the U.S. Olympic team heading to Tokyo.
“It’s been kind of a crazy week,” Baz said.
Even better, Baz will have company as Bulls teammate Joe Ryan also was named to the team that will compete in a six-team tournament for the gold medal.
Ryan, 25, said he expected to be chosen after pitching for the U.S. team last month in the qualifying tournament and was more focused on the logistics and contingences due to COVID-19 restrictions, but still expected it to be “an amazing experience” for all.
“It’s an honor anytime you get to put that jersey on,” he said. “Just excited to go over there and represent the country.”
Baz, who played for the under-18 national team in a tournament in Mexico, said he was surprised when Rays executive Jeff McLerran called him with the news.
“I mean, they can pick from a lot of people,” Baz said. “To selected is just a big honor. Very humbled. Lucky. Excited. Those are the words that come to mind.”
Two former Rays, pitchers Edwin Jackson and Scott Kazmir, also were named to the 24-man roster, which is open to players not currently on 40-man rosters.
Team USA manager Mike Scioscia, the longtime Angels skipper, said he considered Ryan and Baz two of his top four starters and is thrilled to have them.
On Ryan: “Love Joe Ryan, and I love his makeup. I love his demeanor on the mound. He’s certainly not going to be intimidated by any situation. He has a terrific arm. … Excited to give him the ball.”
On Baz: “Like Joe, he is very, very talented. I think he’s got great makeup which is going to be important in this tournament. You’re going to be out there (and) you’re going to be playing against some very, very talented baseball players.”
The U.S. team will open training camp July 16 in Cary, N.C., play three exhibitions (including July 19 at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park) then head to Japan, with its opening game of the six-team tournament set for July 30 against Israel. Other participants are the Dominican Republic, Japan, Korea and Mexico. This is the first time baseball is in the Olympics since 2008.
The Rays had to grant permission for the players to participate (which not all teams did), feeling it would benefit their development to compete in the Olympic environment.
“They’re both pitchers we think really highly of. We’ve done that for quite some time,” manager Kevin Cash said from Buffalo, N.Y. “They’ve both taken a step forward in their development. … To go represent your country, that’s pretty special. We’re all proud as an organization for both of them.”
Ryan said he didn’t have any concerns about missing time with the Rays or the potential of a callup to the big leagues during the tournament.
“It’s two weeks, three weeks,” Ryan said. “I’m planning on pitching in the big leagues for a long time, and if that’s going to delay that so be it. I want to go play in the Olympics. I think that’s an amazing opportunity and once in a lifetime, so it’s going to be a good time.”
Baz similarly considered it a one-time opportunity too good to pass up. “Obviously I want to play in the big leagues,” he said, “but winning a gold medal for your country, that’s pretty tough to beat.”
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