Iowa baseball kicks off summer exhibitions ahead of World University Games

Hawkeyes preparing to represent USA in Taiwan

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IOWA CITY — Late July baseball in the state of Iowa is generally reserved for high school teams playing in the state tournament at Principal Park in Des Moines and a handful of minor league teams.

College baseball in the state is virtually nonexistent at this time. Iowa, the only Division I program in the state, played its last game of the season back on June 4. Yet on Tuesday night, as unusual as it may be, baseball was being played at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City.

The Hawkeyes hosted the Iowa Valley League All-Stars on Tuesday in the first of three exhibition games it will host this summer. Iowa, which beat the All-Stars 7-3, will head to Taipei, Taiwan, in August to represent the U.S. in the World University Games.

The three exhibition games are used mainly as another way to get practice ahead of the 29th playing of the games, and to just play against a different team.

“It felt great, and I thought we played a clean game,” Iowa coach Rick Heller said. “Defensively, we were very solid. A few walks in there, but really not that bad for the first time out. I would say position players were a little bit ahead of where the pitchers are right now. We’re kind of easing some guys back into it after a lot of them had most of June off.”

The Hawkeyes will host Red Top Sports on Thursday, before they head to Wichita, Kan., on Saturday to play three games in the National Baseball Congress World Series. They will then return to Iowa City one last time on Aug. 10 to host the Quad City Cardinals.

In Taiwan, the Hawkeyes will go up against eight different countries represented in the games, and will play in three games in the group round before advancing to tournament play. Iowa is placed in Group B with Mexico, Russia and Japan.

“It’s a very, very special thing, and it’s going to help our ballclub this year a lot,” Heller said. “The fact that we’ve been able to train here most of the summer and what we’re going to gain from this, putting on the uniform for the United States and representing in the world games is going to be something that these guys will never forget. I think all of them will grow light-years as players and teammates. It’s a fantastic thing.”

After seeing his team play Tuesday night, Heller said he saw a lot of areas where they need to improve before heading overseas — or even to the NBC tournament, a tournament that he said will boast tremendous talent. Heller still has time before the two tournaments kick off, though. And, he said it’s more about the experience of playing for the U.S.

“It’s just a different deal when you put the USA jersey on,” Heller said. “I don’t think any of them realize it yet, but it’s going to be something pretty special. Hopefully we can keep improving every day. We’re still a long ways away from being where we need to be to compete over there, but it was a good start tonight.”

l Comments: ryan.young@thegazette.com

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