PEORIA, Ariz. - With temperatures topping out at 105° in Arizona during the USA Baseball National Team Championships, it takes a special kind of person to bear the heat. While most in the crowd are parents, grandparents or siblings, one might see one or two men sitting behind home plate holding a radar gun or taking notes.
These men are a part of the USA Baseball Task Force assigned to find the best of the best across the country, often working long hours and crisscrossing across the U.S. - and sometimes even to other countries - to do so. Often away from their families for long periods, it takes a special kind of person to dedicate themselves to the task.
"You definitely miss your family, but they're really proud of you for doing it and they understand that it's an honor to represent your country," Task Force member Eric Kibler said. "You're also so locked in that days go by pretty fast and there also isn't a lot of down time."
Kibler, a highly respected figure within the game, has served on the coaching staffs of three gold medal-winning USA Baseball national teams, helping to lead the 2009 16U National Team to a world championship at the International Baseball Federation World Youth Championships in Taichung, Taiwan, and the 2010 16U team to a first-place finish at the COPABE Pan American "AA" Youth Championships in Lagos de Moreno, Mexico. He also helped lead the 18U National Team to a gold medal as an assistant coach at the 2015 World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup in Osaka, Japan.
"Most of the time you spend about 24 days away from start to finish, and that's the longest I've ever been away from my wife and kids," Kibler said. "It was really strange the first time, but that's the hard part for me."
Aside from spending time away from family, being a task force member also requires concentration and attention to detail. While a less experienced scout might miss smaller personality traits on the field like a player throwing a bat or hanging their head after making an error, more experienced scouts like Kibler and fellow Task Force member Tom Succow would see those traits and take them into consideration.
"You don't want a player that's going to be a helmet or bat thrower," Succow said. "You have to pay attention to what the player does from the time he steps onto the field to the time he steps off."
Despite the grind, both men and others in their position see the job as an honor to represent their country while also doing justice to kids around the country. It gives them a chance to shine a spotlight on players who may not have gotten a chance otherwise.
"Watching the players we selected doing well and going on to player college and professional baseball is one of the more rewarding parts of the job," Kibler said. "I was watching the College World Series and thinking about how many of those kids I've worked with and that's a lot of fun."
Before the players get to compete on the highest stages, they first must be identified by the task force at a number of USA Baseball events, including the National Team Championships. Armed with a list of players to watch, each member heads out to grind nine and sometimes even ten-hour days for three weeks straight, trying to find the best to represent the Red, White and Blue.
With 96 teams in this year's 17U division of the National Team Championships, the duty can be daunting for the group. However, they play a crucial role at these events in scouting talent to hopefully funnel through the USA Baseball system to make the boys into better baseball players and better men.
"The Task Force plays a crucial role in the National Team Championships," Director of Baseball Operations Ben Kelley said. "The ultimate goal is for us to find the best athletes to represent our country on the international stage, and our task force is out at the fields every day scouting and ensuring that we're in the best position to select the best athletes."