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Danville Express

Living - September 18, 2009

Going the distance

International teens find common language on the diamond

by Geoff Gillette

Every Little Leaguer dreams of making it to "The Show," the major leagues and playing before thousands of cheering fans. As they grow older, and move through tournaments they get a taste of that. But Danville teenager John Hochstatter was able to take that feeling a few steps further as he participated in the 16U International Baseball Federation Championships held this summer at Intercontinental Stadium in Taiwan.

Hochstatter, a junior at San Ramon Valley High School, was chosen from among thousands of young ballplayers to be one of 18 members of Team USA at the IBAF's annual championship.

The 16-year-old attended a tryout featuring 172 teams in Arizona earlier in the summer and was chosen along with 17 other ball players to represent the West Coast. Eighteen players were also chosen from the East Coast, and the three dozen ballplayers went to Fullerton, Calif., for a weeklong tryout that culminated with a team being put together to take part in the championship.

"There were a lot of really good ball players there," Hochstatter recalled. "I didn't really see them though. Honestly, I just went there and did what I had to do."

Hochstatter, a pitcher and 1st baseman who also plays for the SRVHS Wolves, worked his way through the tryout week until a final roster was announced.

"They brought us into the hotel and called off our names," he said. "I didn't have time to get nervous because my name was the first one called."

Once assembled, the team flew out the next day to Taiwan. After a nerve-wracking flight due to an incoming typhoon, the team members arrived in Taichung, where they would be staying for the duration of the trip. The games were scheduled at the Intercontinental Stadium, and the players were lodged at a nearby hotel.

Over the next few days, the players held three exhibition matches to get ready for the start of the championship. This allowed them to get used to being in a different time zone and to get acclimatized to the local cuisines, some of which made quite an impression.

"There was pig knuckles," Hochstatter said with a grin. After admitting that he didn't try them he added, "Most of us didn't want to upset our stomachs so we stuck to rice."

Hochstatter and his teammates said they were pleased to find one familiar source of sustenance in Taiwan.

"7-Eleven was our savior; we'd go there every three or four days and stockpile Snickers and Pringles," he said.

After a few short days, it was time for the Opening Ceremonies. Hochstatter said the president of Taiwan officiated at the event.

"The nations walked in one at a time," he said. "We were next to the Russian and Venezuelan teams. It was the first time we saw the other teams."

The lack of a common language didn't stop the teams from interacting, and even having some rivalries form.

"The Korean team made a promise that they were guaranteed to beat us," laughed Hochstatter. "They ended up losing to us, but their excuse was that they wanted a certain slot."

Of the 18 team members, Hochstatter was one of eight pitchers. He and two others were the only left-handers on the team. He saw some strong time on the mound, especially in Team USA's matchup against the Netherlands. In the team's 15-1 win, Hochstatter pitched five innings and struck out nine batters.

"I wasn't really thinking about strikeouts, I was focused on everybody wants me to succeed," he explained.

Over the course of the tournament, Hochstatter pitched 10 innings and logged in 15 strikeouts.

"He was their go-to guy when they needed a strikeout," Hochstatter's father Mark proudly stated.

"The confidence behind me was really nice," the younger Hochstatter agreed. "I've never played with that caliber of playing before."

Team USA excelled at the championship, taking its fourth gold medal in a row. In the IBAF tournament, Team USA is now 31-0. Hochstatter said there were a few games that made them nervous about that record. The first was against their hosts, China-Taipei.

"By the end of the third inning we were down by eight runs," he remembered. "You could tell most of the team was a little shocked. There were three or four errors, and these guys don't make errors."

He said that the team was able to focus its game and pull it out in the end. They ended up defeating the Chinese team 11-8.

In the finals they also struggled against Cuba. Going into the ninth inning, the team was down 6-5 but managed to take a 7-6 lead and hold the Cuban team to no runs, taking the gold medal.

Hochstatter said that being part of the medal ceremony was an amazing experience, one he will never forget. He added that getting to meet the other players from all over the world was an experience he would also value in the years to come.

"It kind of opened my eyes to how big baseball is. How it's not just an American sport," he said. "It also really makes me appreciate living in America."

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