Sept. 16, 2008
Fullerton, Calif. - This past summer while most students were lounging on the beach, three Cal State Fullerton Titans were busy in Europe helping the USA National Team win a gold medal in baseball.
TEAM USA PHOTO GALLERY
"It means a lot to the entire program to have three players on the National Team, especially to achieve the success that they did," Cal State Fullerton Head Coach Dave Serrano said.
The trio of Christian Colon, Josh Fellhauer and Jared Clark played a key role in the USA's record setting 24-0 run that culminated in a 1-0 victory over Japan in the FISU World Championship game hosted by the Czech Republic. This year marked the first time any USA National Team had ever gone undefeated in international play.
"In 30 years it hasn't happened," USA National Team Head Coach Rob Walton (Oral Roberts) said. "I think the only thing people can do is tie it - they can't be better than us. That's the one nice thing about it; it's the best team. It might not have the best players but it's the best team USA's put on the field in their history."
In order to finish off the unprecedented summer, the USA had to win against some of the best teams from around the world - twice winning against Cuba's Olympic team.
"We felt really good about that," Colon said. "After beating them we felt like we could really do this, we're pretty darn good. Our confidence level just really went up."
The team initially started out with only two Titans on the roster but an injury opened up a spot for Clark to be put on the team as a late addition.
"I actually got a call a week earlier and they said that I might be on their list," Clark said. "I got my hopes up for that but it fell through pretty much."
After that disappointment Clark thought that his dream of joining his fellow CSF teammates playing for the National Team might be over, but he received a call again, and this time it was the one he was hoping for.
"I was really excited when I heard about it the week before and then my happiness got crushed," Clark said. "The second time I didn't get my hopes up until I was on the plane. I didn't want to say anything, I didn't even tell my family until they said it was a for sure done deal."
Colon was excited to receive the news about Clark's addition to the team.
"When we knew he was coming it was crazy, we were pretty pumped up because he was one of us and we all felt pretty comfortable around each other," Colon said. "Just seeing his face and how happy he was, and knowing that we could all do this together was pretty cool."
Fellhauer seemed reenergized when his Titan teammate joined the squad.
"When Jared came in he kind of brought new life to me and Christian," Fellhauer said. "I was like now I got another buddy here and it was like I kind of want to step up and show him what I'm doing out here."
For Fellhauer and Clark this may have been their first time playing for USA baseball, but Colon was already a grizzled veteran to international play. Prior to playing on this USA National Team - that is comprised of some of the best collegiate players from around the country - Colon had competed in the Junior Olympics on the 16-and-under National Team as a sophomore in high school, and the 18-and-under National Team that went to Cuba to play.
The only previous time Fellhauer had been out of the United States was a short trip south of the border.
"I'd been to Mexico before, but this was nothing even close to that," Fellhauer said. "The experience was awesome. The people around were different in many different ways, but it wasn't necessarily a bad thing."
Before heading overseas to compete, the National Team got primed on US soil with six exhibition wins.
"When we were back in the States we played this Chinese Taipei team six times, and we beat them six times," Colon said. "We were like, `man what's going on here?' It was early in the summer but we played some pretty good ballgames. They were pretty good, so we knew we were pretty good, and that we could do this."
"If we lose any one of those three kids I don't know if we could win gold. All three of them are great players, but I think that as good as they are players, they are as good of kids as you can ever have. I think Fullerton has done a great job identifying talent, but they've also done a great job identifying quality people."
USA National Team Head Coach Rob Walton (Oral Roberts)
Colon and Fellhauer made an immediate impact on the team and quickly cemented their spots at the top of the order. Colon was the only player to start every game and Fellhauer would have done likewise if an illness hadn't sidelined him for a game. The duo did manage to tie for the team lead in hits with 26. Colon finished with the most at-bats (99) and stolen bases (5) while Fellhauer led the squad in runs (21) and doubles (6) while batting .299 over 23 games.
"Christian was amazing," Fellhauer said. "He did his thing and hit anywhere from first to fourth in the lineup and was strong as a rock on defense, like he always is. His play was outstanding this summer."
Even though Clark was a late arrival, he made his presence known immediately with a home run in his very first game against Cuba. Despite only playing in 13 games, Clark led the team in home runs (4) and slugging percentage (.628).
"He [Clark] came in and hit fire all of a sudden," Fellhauer said. "He hit a home run in the first game and then just went on from there and did his deal." Coach Walton said that he had felt comfortable about adding Clark to the roster because of his affiliation with Cal State Fullerton and his experiences with the two Titans who were already on the team.
"I think Clark was a guy that kind of was the missing piece to the puzzle, giving us a little bit of a threat in the middle of the lineup and then shoring up some defense at first base," Walton said.
Clark's defense was so good that in his limited playing time he managed to win a gold glove for the National Team.
"I thought it was funny that a first baseman got to win it, but I do pride myself on my defense," Clark said. "The best part about playing first base is that you get to pick up your teammates if they do throw balls in the dirt. It's kind of like `I got you, you got me.'"
Walton credits all three of the Titans players with helping the National Team in its successful run.
"If we lose any one of those three kids I don't know if we could win gold," Walton said. "All three of them are great players, but I think that as good as they are players, they are as good of kids as you can ever have. I think Fullerton has done a great job identifying talent, but they've also done a great job identifying quality people."
When asked about a memorable moment that sticks out in his mind, Walton cited Colon's defensive play.
"Colon's play against Japan was exceptional because that's the fastest team in the world, probably the fastest team I've ever seen in my life," Walton said. "Any routine or slow hit ground ball to short has got a chance to be a hit, so your ability to come get the ball, exchange it, and get the out, becomes a premium. He recognized that and he was able to throw those guys out by a half-a-step every time, and that's crucial. For me that's the one thing that I remember about Christian, he, basically, along with the pitchers, was able to control the running game, that's sometimes funny to say about a shortstop." At the plate, the "Fullerton Boys" - as they were known by the rest of the team - accounted for 87 of the 150 runs scored by the National Team.
"Not to be cocky or anything, but I feel Felly, Jared and I just carried that team a little bit, for a while, with our pitching staff," Colon said. "It was a pretty cool deal to see."
Great play on the field wasn't all the "Fullerton Boys" saw on their trip oversees. The long bus rides across Europe allowed them to see places they may never see again, and create memories that will last a lifetime.
"It was just awesome because we were all coming from the same school, and we are all going to tell the same stories," Fellhauer said. " Then we're going to come back and hopefully win another championship this year, and we're all going to share the same memories," Fellhauer said.
Clark recounted one of his most memorable experiences when the National Team played in Germany.
"Germany had a good turnout. It was very cool that a lot of the USA army base guys - that are based out in Germany - came out to the game," Clark said. "It was cool to see them at the game. They brought their American flags out and cheered us on, and had a USA chant going. They wanted our autographs and to talk to us and I told them thank you for what they are doing for us. It felt very good to have those guys over there cheering for us."
Both Fellhauer and Colon agreed that one of their favorite countries to visit was the Netherlands. The fans in Haarlem - near Amsterdam - where the National team played, made a lasting impression on them.
"Amsterdam was pretty cool in terms of fans, they were up all the time and cheering," Colon said. "It kind of felt like home because there were just a lot of fans just into the game all the time. They really cheered for good baseball. They really didn't have a team over there, so they were there for good baseball. That's what fans in California are looking for."
When all the games were done and the last pitch was thrown, it was finally time to celebrate their historic accomplishment.
"In the beginning we had no idea. We didn't know that no team has ever gone undefeated overseas, and we had no idea that no team has beaten Cuba's national team," Fellhauer said. " Once Rob [Walton] told us, we had maybe five games left and it was a little more pressure, but it's like we're chasing this goal, and once we hit it, it was like being a kid in little league. I threw up my glove and threw up my hat, we dog piled, and it was just a great feeling."
With that great experience behind them, the goal of all three players is to win another championship - this time a national one for Cal State Fullerton.
"I think that this was great for them," Serrano said. "Hopefully it carries over into this season."
Tom Sheridan is a former writer for the Daily Titan and is currently an intern in the Cal State Fullerton athletic media relations office.