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March 7, 2009

Rick Magnante

John Olivier

Lee Smith


THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. I just want to introduce you to the South African group. On your far right is the manager of South Africa for the second World Baseball Classic, the manager Rick Magnante. To his right is the South African pitching coach and former Major League All-Star Lee Smith, and representing the South African delegation is John Olivier.
I guess what I'll do, Rick, if I can introduce you to this group, your thoughts on returning for your second World Baseball Classic, and the group that you have in comparison to the squad that you had in 2006.
RICK MAGNANTE: Well, it's a thrill and a privilege to be here my second time through. I think I'm in the valley of Elah, it's the Israelites and the Philistines and they're calling David down. It's a big challenge for us, but we embrace that challenge and we look forward to it.
As I compare this second year or second time through, the team in '09 with the '06 team, I think there's been a tremendous amount of progress in South Africa.
We thank Major League Baseball for their support. We now have a younger team than we had in '06. I think of the 28 players on our roster, 20 are between the ages of 16 and 22 years old. So when you take that into consideration against the form, I'd believe the competition we're up against and the experience that we're up against, it's quite a challenge. But on the other side of that coin, we are better than we were in '06, so we're looking forward to the competition and we're looking forward to the challenge and are very pleased to be here.
THE MODERATOR: Rick, if we could, we had talked about you're willing to introduce your starter for Cuba.
RICK MAGNANTE: Our starter tomorrow will be Barry Armitage. It's a veteran pitcher on our staff - spent four or five years in the Kansas City Royals organization; got as high as AA at Wichita. He's our veteran guy. We look to him to give us a good effort tomorrow, so he'll be the starter.
THE MODERATOR: Lee, if you could maybe further, in regards to Barry, you've had a chance to work with him, your thoughts on how he'll get against a very strong Cuba team.
LEE SMITH: Very competitive, and I want him not to try to do too much and stay within himself. He has three above-average pitches, and you look at the line-up they're throwing out there, you've got to take it into consideration and make your best pitches when you have and try to stay out of big innings.
THE MODERATOR: The media has made a lot of the average age of the pitching staff, which is 20. Might be the youngest in the World Baseball Classic. You've got a lot of experience behind you. How do you deal with a young pitching staff.
LEE SMITH: You've got to keep things simple, make sure the guys stay within ourselves. I look to Barry Armitage and Darryn Smith and guys like that to help me with this, work with 14, 15 kids and really touch all the bases. I look to Alan Randall is my bullpen coach, the one guy that really knows these guys when they were 10 or 12 years old. But the main thing is go out there and make your pitches and make everything count.

Q. It's very interesting to see the spectacle that the World Baseball Classic is for a lot of these players. This is the first time in their environment. From overseas maybe your perspective in talking about the players and the delegation you brought over, some of your thoughts on the World Baseball Classic?
JOHN OLIVIER: Well, I think this is an opportunity for some of our youngsters to experience things at a level that they aren't really accustomed to. Surprisingly enough, even though they are so young, like the coaches have said, these kids are up to the challenge, and I think a lot of them are soaking all of this up, and I think they're going to do fairly well?
THE MODERATOR: Can you talk about the fact that Major League Baseball has been very, I guess, a large supporter to South African baseball, and by being on this stage, this world stage, perhaps this will help initiate some of the local sponsorship back home.
JOHN OLIVIER: I think we as South African baseball are very appreciative of the input from Major League Baseball. They've been a part of us for a long time, many years, and our development program back home was largely as a result of the input. Our schools program we have I think over 1,300 primary schools, and Major League Baseball was very instrumental in all the equipment that we use for the schools, and a number of these kids have actually come from that program.
Also we are hoping that if we do well, and I think we've done well to have been here for the second Classic, hopefully back home the sponsors are going to step up to the plate so we can take baseball in South Africa to the next level.
THE MODERATOR: At this time I'd like to open it up to the floor.

Q. Where would you put baseball now in order of sports and interest in South Africa? And how important is the World Baseball Classic in trying to get it up the ladder?
JOHN OLIVIER: We are very fortunate in that baseball has now been qualified as one of the priority sports back home. When we compete against the likes of our three big sports, namely, rugby, cricket and soccer, most of the major sponsors are basically backing those. So we have made some inroads in our national department, the Department of Education, because we're working with fairly young kids, as well as our Department of Sport and Recreation. We are getting some assistance, but in terms of corporate sponsorship, I think we've got a long way to go.

Q. How do you generate interest in the country when you've got three sports that are just so established? Are Major League games on television there? Where does the interest begin with the young kids in your system?
JOHN OLIVIER: I think the interest that now has been generated has largely been from the program that Major League Baseball has initiated. It is a huge uphill battle against the other sports. In terms of media coverage, it's very difficult. The soccer, the cricket and the rugby get the lion's share. We're hosting the 2010 World Cup next year, so it would appear that all the focus right now is on the soccer.
Our school program actually is growing very rapidly, and that's where we're actually trying to grow the base, at the junior level and school level mainly.

Q. Rick, what are your expectations and realistic expectations here this week?
RICK MAGNANTE: Well, you want to be -- our job is primarily to teach and prepare these players to play their best baseball against very difficult odds. You have to really be honest in your appraisal of how high the bar has been set for these young players, and I try to look at the big picture, where it was when I came on board here in '06 and where we've gotten to now.
Last year when we embarked on our first game, I told the players the Cinderella stories over. We saw "Hoosiers," we saw "Miracle," we saw "Rocky," we saw all the inspirational movies that we could see to kind of emphasize a position where we might be, and now it was time to play baseball.
We came out against Canada in that first game and we had an 8-7 lead going into the 9th inning. Our only misfortune was that we had to put a 17-year-old high school junior on the mound to close out the last three outs, and we couldn't get it done. I guarantee you this year we'll be in a better position should that opportunity present itself to win a ballgame.
I know because of what we've talked about before, the cricket, the soccer and the rugby, the fact that you cannot make a profession out of baseball in South Africa. So if a player is an athlete over there, and he's got two or three sports to choose from and that's what his vocation is to be, then he's probably going to choose the other three.
So until they can get a greater revenue stream, better facilities, possibly not unlike the Hawaiian Winter League, if we could get a South African winter league, because their winter is summer over there. So we get those guys over there and maybe combine with the Europeans, just brainstorming, maybe when they start to play 50, 60, 70 games against A-Ball players from the States, with the Europeans, with the South Africans, then you're going to see improvements. When we're able to come here and practice for 20 days on these types of facilities, our playing grows. We get better.
It's a great opportunity. I'm very blessed to be a part of it, and we just look forward to playing the best baseball we can.

Q. Lee, with your experience in the Big Leagues and success, how much do these kids want to feed off of you to tell them stories or perhaps prepare them mentally for the crowds and the style of play and the quality of play they're going to see?
LEE SMITH: Well, these young kids every day, they're bringing up something about my career, you know, and I'm like, hey, guys, I've had my career. I want to see something that we as coaches taught you that you guys do in your careers.
The one thing is these guys are so eager in wanting to learn. I look down at the bullpen and I've got three guys throwing, and I'm like, hey, man, you've got to save your bullets because I've got to get them up again.
The one thing I really, really enjoy is working with these kids on a day-to-day basis, seeing them come out every day wanting to learn more. They're not laid back, they want to go out there and get after it. I try to tell them step back a little bit and not rush things.
I had an opportunity to play in the Big Leagues for 18 years, and the guys are like, what was your memorable moments? and I was like, it went by so fast. So I want you to step back and make sure you don't make these undoubtedly, I guess, like mistakes that someone else has made because you're representing your country, and the one thing on and off the field I try to keep the kids thinking about that. But maybe just to go out there against Major League hitters is really tough. We sent that 17-year-old kid out there, and I was like, man, I would have been a little nervous in that situation when I was 35. So think about that situation we were putting those kids in.

Q. What did you learn from the previous exhibition games you just played that perhaps you saw on paper and then you said, well, we know more things about these teams. Looking at the Angels' score, scoring six runs and 11 hits. What did you learn from your club on the field in recent games?
RICK MAGNANTE: I would say the most impressive thing to me was there's no quit in this ballclub. We're down three, we come back. We go down three, we come back again. So the energy level, the commitment, the desire to win, I wouldn't call it a chip on the shoulder because it's really not that, but it's like we're going to prove to you that we're going to play nine innings and we're going to give you everything we've got and we're not going to quit.
That's the thing I've been most impressed with, the intangibles, not only the skill set and the improvement of their tools, but the ability to teach them they've got to play nine innings and they've got to go hard and anything can happen.
LEE SMITH: Myself, just seeing the guys looking at the game and understanding, there was a situation we had there against Oakland, and we had a left-handed hitter Jack Cust who's hooking things and we had the team put the shift on, and they're putting the best arm in the right position. I mean, that was amazing. You see guys that play 40 games a year, to understand and to see the game and have an understanding of what it should be and what goals that they're looking for, and it really was amazing.
JOHN OLIVIER: I think given the average age of the team and the inexperience, also, these kids stepped up to the plate, and they gave as good as they got. Like the coaches are saying, these are kids that are worth watching. They are totally, totally committed to the task at hand, and with the warm-up games we were very impressed with the performance of the players.

Q. Is this a meeting of Hoosiers and Bad News Bears?
RICK MAGNANTE: Fair enough, sure.

Q. I mean no disrespect.
RICK MAGNANTE: No, but there's an honesty here. You have boys that are going to school and playing on the weekends. You have the other segment of the team which are married guys with one or two children working 40- to 50-hour weeks. We can never bring them together to practice all at the same time because geographically they're separated. They're not compensated for when they do come together.
So it's a difficult road to hoe, there's no doubt about it. But they have come together and given their best effort. So yes, there's some comedy in it, but there's some realism in it, too, and hopefully they'll prove that they're worthy of being here.

Q. Is there a mindset, when you ain't got nothing, you've got nothing to lose?
RICK MAGNANTE: I think you can say that, sure. We've all heard that adage. Nobody expects, so all we can do is surprise, and we saw that today with the Dutch beating the Dominicans. If the South Africans can come out here and ditto that performance, that would be something very special, certainly.

Q. A certain style, do you define your club offensively with the personnel you have?
RICK MAGNANTE: They asked me that when they started to cover the WBC, and we don't have an outstanding tool. We don't have tremendous team speed. We don't have big boppers, we don't have pitchers with plus fastballs and secondary pitches. So we just have to approach it very basically and say let's play catch, let's not give them any more outs than they're entitled to, let's move runners along, let's put ourselves in position to catch ground balls and make proper throws and play the best baseball we can and see what happens at the end.

End of FastScripts

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