BLOG: USA Baseball a Unique Experience for Cooper
Sept. 20, 2013
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Recently hired Penn State head baseball coach Rob Cooper had a busy end to his summer before arriving on the University Park campus to begin molding his Nittany Lions program.
Cooper, who was hired on Aug. 9, spent the last few weeks of his summer coaching the USA Baseball U18 team that competed at the IBAF U18 Baseball World Cup in Taiwan. His squad rallied from behind in three games before claiming gold with a victory over Japan.
Now, back on campus and focusing on his new post at Penn State, there is a lot Cooper can relate from his experiences in Taiwan to being the new Nittany Lions' skipper.
There were a lot of unique experiences for Cooper, who was a two-time assistant on the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team staff before being named head coach of the U18 squad, specifically being able to represent his country while coaching baseball.
"It's the highlight of my coaching career because any time you get to represent your country and wear the USA across your chest and play for a gold medal it's just an unbelievable feeling," he said.
His USA team originally had 40 players after the initial 144-player tryout in Cary, N.C. Those 40 players headed to California for a second set of evaluations and were then cut down to 20 before the start of the World Cup.
Cooper and his USA staff were tasked with taking the 20 best players in the country for their age and put together a team first environment that eventually was able to mesh into a gold medal team.
"I was most impressed with the way those 20 guys, the best 20 players in the country, didn't care about statistics, where they were from or what college they'd committed to," Cooper said.
"All they cared about was coming together, staying together and doing everything they could to win a gold medal for their country."
That is the same mindset Cooper is already instilling in his Penn State team as the fall season begins to get underway. Cooper and his staff want the players to take a day-by-day approach, but he stresses the fact that they have to be put in uncomfortable situations in order to be successful.
"You have to get comfortable being uncomfortable," said Penn State's 14th head baseball coach.
He was able to do that with the U18 team and is confident his players at Penn State will buy into the mindset in a similar fashion, saying he has already seeing signs that they will.
When Cooper first met with his players, his trip to Taiwan was a hot topic between the players and their new coach. When Cooper was asked what the most rewarding part about the World Cup was his answer was simple: the difficulty of winning the gold medal.
It goes back to being uncomfortable and being able to grind through those tight situations. His team was down in multiple games and found a way to come back and achieve victory. That experience is something Cooper will bring forth as the Nittany Lions' head man.
"That's what makes it all worth while," he said. "That's what makes things special when you overcome and achieve things that are tough so you can say you accomplished them."
It's not going to be easy for this Penn State team. That was the message Cooper was trying to deliver when answering the question, but he also wanted to make something else very clear early in his tenure.
The players on the current Nittany Lion roster are the players he wants. Period.
"What I mean by that is that I have had a lot of people say, `when you get your guys in there you are going to do a good job,'" Cooper said. "That irritates me because these are my guys."
"We're going to go about this year and put in the work and the time and the energy and we're going to give a great effort."
After being able to have conversations with his players, settle into the State College area and begin his new job at Penn State, Cooper has made a lot of realizations about the Penn State community.
Some were immediately obvious when he took the job back in August and others he has picked up on as he's gone along, but all of it verified why he wanted to be here in the first place.
"You have certain expectations and it's very rare that places or people or things surpass those expectations," he said. "There's something new I learn about State College or Penn State every day that makes me think, `no wonder this is such a special place.' That reaffirms why I wanted to be here."
Combine that with the experiences that Cooper just had with Team USA and it puts together something very special not only for Cooper but for the Penn State athletic community, as well.
"One of the things that makes what I just got a chance to do so special is that I got a chance to represent my country as a member of the Penn State family and that was really neat to be able to lead that team and bring back a gold medal to the Penn State community," said Cooper.
Now it's time for him and his staff to go to work. Penn State will complete its individual workouts next week and begin team practices on Sept. 26.