After a summer of travelling across the country and overseas, North Carolinas Skye Bolt and N.C. States Trea Turner and Carlos Rodon will return home Monday.
The trio has been to five U.S. states along with a trip to Japan. The USA Baseball Collegiate National Team has two games remaining against the Cuban National Team at 7 p.m. Monday at the USA National Training Complex in Cary and at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
We had a lot of fun seeing new places, but its great to get back here, Bolt said. I think everyone is finally getting back to their old sleep patterns and as much as we enjoyed the experience, its nice to be back.
While this is Bolts first tour with the team, Rodon and Turner are spending their second year with the Collegiate National Team.
Rodon has been perfect in his three starts with a 2-0 record, 10 strikeouts and a 0.00 ERA through 10 1/3 innings including a spotless start in the first game of the series against Cuba. The left-hander attributed much of that success to his familiarity with USA Baseball.
The biggest thing is the travelling, Rodon said. I had never travelled as much as we did last year to play baseball. Now that I know what to do in those situations, that really got me prepared for whats to come.
Turner echoed Rodons thoughts on his second summer with the team.
Im a lot more comfortable this year, Turner said. Last year, it felt like a lot of travelling and it was more of a culture shock when we went places. This time around, I knew what to expect and Im not quite as in the dark playing against a team like Cuba.
Turners statistics against Cuba prove that point. The shortstop struggled most of the summer, holding a .221 average with a .632 on-base-plus slugging percentage through 18 games, but in his past three games against Cuba, he holds a team-leading .333 average with a .771 OPS.
The turnaround came in large part to a change in scenery, according to Turner. And with USA leading the series 3-0, he has even more confidence coming back to the Triangle.
I got away from what I did during the regular season and just tried to fix it during batting practice, Turner said. I was used to a routine at school and couldnt do that with this team. I just simplified stuff and tried to get back to where I was earlier.
The Cuba series is the second international series the team has played in, the other being in Japan. The players got to experience a different culture, with the biggest difference for Bolt being a severe lack of protein outside of fish.
The Japanese game also is completely different. In Japan, small ball is the norm, but Bolt said there was a split fastball he had never seen before that crossed him up along with his teammates in the 2-3 series loss.
That thing was devastating, Bolt said with a laugh. It came up there like a change-up with rotation that dropped off the table. That messed me and some of the other guys up pretty bad.
It is unknown whether Bolt will play Monday or Tuesday with a .136 average and .208 on-base percentage, he hasnt played against Cuba thus far but Turner will look to continue his hot streak and Rodon will pitch in the final game in Durham.
Having a chance to pitch the final game of this series is pretty important to me, Rodon said. Its pretty special to be pitching back at home and on this stage. Itll be nice to have some hometown fans out there cheering us on against a team like Cuba.
Considering the last time Rodon pitched at the park he went 10 innings against North Carolina without giving up an earned run, Rodon added with a grin, I feel pretty comfortable there.