Countdown to Syndey: Ainsworth Goes For Gold
By Chris Macaluso
Tiger fans looking for a reason to tune into the upcoming Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia got one earlier this week when former LSU All-American pitcher Kurt Ainsworth was named to the 2000 baseball team.
“This is a great opportunity for me to get to represent my country,” Ainsworth said. “This is something all kids dream about, being able to go out and try to win the gold.”
Ainsworth had one of the greatest single-season performances in LSU baseball history in 1999, leading the Tigers to a Super-Regional birth by posting a 13-6 overall record and a team-low 3.45 ERA. He was also one of the national leaders in strikeouts that season with 157 in 130.1 innings pitched.
Ainsworth was able to accomplish all this after recovering from a potentially career-ending arm injury just two years earlier. The San Francisco Giants made him their No. 1 pick in the 1999 major league draft. This season he has appeared in 27 games for the Shreveport Captains, posting an 8-9 record with a 3.54 record.
“I was told by the team general manager that I had a good chance to make it to the big club this year if somebody had gotten hurt or we (the Giants) had lost some more games,” Ainsworth said. “But they?re playing so well, I don?t guess I?ll make it up.”
Bob Watson, former general manager for the New York Yankees, and the co-chairman of the selection and steering committee for Olympic Baseball 2000 said it was a good thing for his team Ainsworth did not get called up because anyone on a Major League roster as of Sept. 1 will be ineligible to play in the Olympics.
“We started looking at players in Spring Training,” Watson said. “Ainsworth was high on our list since we started our search. We just got lucky he didn?t get called up. If someone would have gotten hurt in San Francisco, he?d have been gone. He?s part of what the Major League guys call their ?first line of defense.?”
Watson said the selection committee started with a list of more than 580 players from major colleges, the Minor Leagues and big-league retirees. The 21-year old Ainsworth is not typical of most of the players who have been selected or still being considered, Watson said.
“We were looking for more experience because the players on teams from other countries are anywhere from 28 to 35 years old,” Watson said. “Our college guys were just too young to compete with that. We wanted mostly older guys except for a few young power arms. Ainsworth falls into that category.”
Ainsworth said the fact he?s younger than most of the other guys is not intimidating.
“Hopefully the committee feels like I can go out there and help the country win a gold medal,” he said. “I watched so many guys from LSU play in the Olympics like Ben McDonald, Warren Morris and Jason Williams, but I didn?t think I?d get the chance once I left college. When they started picking pro guys I got excited.”
Ainsworth joins former UL- Monroe standout and St. Amant native Ben Sheets on the Olympic team. Sheets, who was the first round selection of the Milwaukee Brewers in 1999 is playing for AAA Indianapolis this year. He, Ainsworth and the rest of the squad will be led by former Los Angeles Dodger manger Tommy Lasorda. The 29-man team will open Olympic play Sept. 17th against Japan.