Bregman, Nola among USA’s best

BY LES EAST

Sophomore right-hander Aaron Nola and freshman shortstop Alex Bregman are two of the major reasons the LSU baseball team is ranked No. 2 in the country.

Now both will have an opportunity to help their country compete against the rest of the world.

Tigers baseball coach Paul Mainieri announced Tuesday that Nola, a Baton Rouge native who played at Catholic High, will play for Team USA this summer. Bregman was named to the team last week.

It’s the first time LSU teammates have competed for the US Collegiate National Team since Russ Johnson and Todd Walker did it 20 years ago.

Nola called representing his country “a real big deal.”

“It’s definitely an honor to be a part of it with all those great players around the country,” he said. “Being selected by Team USA was one of my goals before this year.”

Bregman has played for the 16-and-under and 18-and-under national teams, making trips to Cartagena, Columbia, and Lagos de Moreno. He and Nola and their USA teammates will visit Japan and play the Cuban National Team in various U.S. cities after the Tigers’ season ends.

Mainieri has seen the impact the Team USA experience had on former Tigers Micah Gibbs (2009) and Mikie Mahtook (2010), as well as several players he had while coaching at Notre Dame.

“They come back with a different level of maturity,” Mainieri said, “just having been around all those other great players and knowing they had USA across their chests.”

Bregman said he grew up dreaming of playing for LSU, even though he’s from Albuquerque, N.M., because of success he had seen from the Tigers’ elite program.

“We all seem to think that LSU is the biggest thing going in sports,” Mainieri said. “There is actually one team bigger than LSU, and that’s called Team USA.

“It’s our nation’s team, and I think that any time you have an opportunity to represent your country it’s just a privilege and an honor for them.”

Bregman didn’t know Nola had been chosen to join him until he was asked for his reaction to the news before practice Tuesday.

“That’s awesome,” Bregman said as a wide smile spread across his face. “I know he’s going to love it. He’s the perfect guy for that job.”

Bregman said every time he looks at the American flag, he recalls his experience playing for Team USA and now dreams of his next experience.

“Playing for your country is something so special,” Bregman said. “You play against the best players in the world, the best players from other countries. It’s actually very humbling because you go overseas, and you see what they have to deal with and how they go out and compete.

“It actually made me go home and think. I may be outworking people in Albuquerque and in New Mexico, but if I want to be a good baseball player, I have to start outworking people all over the world.”