IOWA CITY – Not unlike a trip last November to the Dominican Republic, the Iowa baseball team views its participation in the World University Games beginning Sunday as more than a chance to represent the United States.
The Hawkeyes see it as the launching pad for the 2018 season.
“Going to the Dominican Republic last year was huge for our team. Beyond baseball, it brought us together as a team and led to a lot of good things,’’ infielder Matt Hoeg said Tuesday, referencing Iowa’s run to the Big Ten tourney title and NCAA tournament. “This will have the same impact. Being together now, it sets the stage for next season.’’
Outfielder Robert Neustrom, a Sioux City North grad, said it seems a little unreal that Iowa’s itinerary in past nine months has included baseball in the Dominican Republic, playing NCAA tourney games in Texas and now, representing the United States in Taiwan.
“Sometimes you have to pinch yourself just to remember it’s real,’’ Neustrom said. “It’s going to be another incredible experience and it’s going to bring us together as a team, just like the Dominican trip did.’’
Iowa coach Rick Heller counts on that.
He put the Hawkeyes through one final workout at Banks Field on Tuesday morning, a practice that preceded a bus trip to Chicago for a midnight departure and the start of a 15-hour flight to Taipei, Taiwan.
Iowa is limited to 22 players on its roster for the World University Games, but nearly all of the 2018 Hawkeyes have been working out for more than a month in Iowa City.
“I think this trip has the potential to be big for us and for our team,’’ Heller said. “We’ve spent some time already working on some of the things we would normally work on during fall ball, so we are already a little ahead of the game there.’’
That work has helped introduce the freshmen and newcomers on the Hawkeye roster to the program, work that will continue on campus following a short break once the team returns from Taiwan.
The trip is a lengthy one – 16 days – and because of that along with the start of fall semester classes next Monday, Heller will leave the majority of Iowa’s freshman class at home to concentrate on the start of its academic work.
“Most of our freshmen have been here over the past few weeks and they’ll be that much further ahead when get going with fall ball later next month,’’ Heller said. “This gives us a real good start to next season.’’
The Hawkeyes who are on the roster for the trip will wear USA jerseys along with white caps which include a stars-and-stripes “I’’ centered on the front while competing against college-level teams from around the globe.
The Iowa baseball team is one of three Big Ten programs competing as team in the World University Games.
The Purdue men’s basketball team and the Maryland women’s basketball team will also compete in Taiwan.
“This is a good opportunity for us to represent our school and the Big Ten,’’ Heller said. “When we received the invitation, it was something I thought a lot about. It’s a unique opportunity.’’
It’s also a chance to continue to play the type of baseball that Iowa played while building a 39-22 record last season.
“We’re not going to be lot different from the way we tried to play last season,’’ Heller said. “We’ll try to play hard, compete hard and never give up, just do the best we can.’’
Iowa opens pool play in Taipei, Taiwan against Mexico, taking the field for the first time in the World University Games at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday. Games against Russia on Tuesday and Japan on Wednesday follow.
“We don’t know a lot about the teams we will be facing, but we are going over there to play Iowa baseball,’’ Neustrom said. “We’re going to be the same type of blue-collar team we always are. We’ll see what we can get done.’’