GENEVA – Kaneland alumnus Drew Peters surveyed a Fifth Third Bank Ballpark clubhouse food spread Monday afternoon and smiled.
The lanky left-hander generously had scattered fresh fruit and pretzels around his plate, but the pregame sustenance only played a small role in his happiness.
For a few hours, Peters and the rest of the Crystal Lake Cardinals had overlapped in the good life of their opponents, the Team USA collegiate national team. Two hours before first pitch, it was time to let everything soak in.
“It’s just a really cool experience to be able to feel this treatment,” Peters said, “and hopefully work harder so that eventually, we can be at this level.”
Team USA returned last week from a six-day tour of Japan. On Thursday, it opens a five-game series against counterparts from Cuba.
Call Monday’s 12-3 victory against the Cardinals a tune-up for that event. But still consider the Cardinals grateful for the chance, engineered in part by well-connected Cardinals coach Armie Bombino of Crystal Lake.
“Yeah, I mean, you’ve got to sometimes step back and see who you’re playing against, because you never know,” Cardinals third baseman Nick Richter said. “Especially when we’re this young. I think it’s fun, and it’s something I can tell my kids or something down the line.”
Eight Cardinals will be part of the Metro Collegiate Baseball League of Illinois All-Star team that opposes Team USA at 1 p.m. today. The roster includes St. Charles East product Dan Ditusa of Seton Hall.
Pitchers certainly will have Team USA first baseman Sam Travis on their scouting report. The Providence alumnus and Indiana standout finished a home run short of the cycle while driving in three runs Monday. Team USA smacked a pair of two-run homers in the second inning and kick-started its offense again in the late innings.
“It was a good experience, playing in a minor league stadium,” said Team USA right fielder Bradley Zimmer, who played in a similar college summer league to the Cardinals’ in California in 2012. “I thought it played pretty true, pretty normal. Other than the flies in my face constantly, I thought it was pretty fun.”
In about five weeks, the Cardinals will disperse to their respective campuses, not unlike their counterparts from Team USA. The Cardinals, a collection of college and junior college players hailing largely from the north and west suburbs, play around the Chicagoland region.
Peters and fellow Kaneland product Bobby Thorson – teammates with the Knights’ 3A state champions in 2011 – both played for Elgin Community College this past season, forming the top of the team’s pitching rotation by the end of the spring.
Thorson – a junior who has signed with NCAA Division I Campbell after two seasons at ECC – was having a strong summer with the Cardinals before suffering a likely ACL tear in a game over the weekend.
Thorson, who is due for an MRI this week, said a doctor told him he is 95 percent sure Thorson tore his left ACL while trying to beat out a grounder.
“It’s pretty saddening. I mean, it’s the first time I’ve really been injured my whole life,” Thorson said. “Pretty bummed, but trying to keep my head up. Trying to get through this as quick as possible.”
Savoring the night was another story. Although Thorson was out of the lineup and Peters had just thrown 80 pitches in an outing Saturday, the Cardinals’ Kaneland contingent still felt plenty connected.
“I’ve learned a lot from Bob, obviously. I’ve played with him my whole life. It’s a great experience,” Peters said. “Now next year [at ECC], I’m going in hoping to be our leader. Hoping to be No. 1. Just developing, getting some strength and lifting.”