Rohan Handa didn’t have a typical summer for a 15-year-old. He spent a lot of time playing baseball, and, oh yeah, winning a gold medal.
The Huntersville resident was a member of U.S.A. Baseball’s 15-under National Team that won the Pan American Baseball Confederation, which goes under the acronym COPABE, for Confederacion Panamericana de Beisbol), Pan Am Championships.
The U.S. National Team went 8-1 in the tournament, Aug. 21-30 in Aguascalientes, Mexico, culminating with a 9-5 victory over Colombia’s national team in the championship game at Estadio Romo Chavez.
“It was a lot of fun, and was a great experience, once in a lifetime,” said Handa, a sophomore at Concord’s Cannon School. “It was amazing. I was honored to represent my country and win the gold (medal).
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“I got to do a lot of cool things like signing autographs on baseball cards and things like that, getting interviewed, going through picture day. But I also got to bond together with my teammates, making them my brothers. It was just a cool experience.”
Handa’s road to making the U-15 National Team began earlier that month, with the team trials at U.S.A. Baseball’s National Training Complex in Cary. On Aug. 9-14, Handa was among 40 players from 15 states trying out for one of the 20 spots on the U.S. national team, and was the only player from North Carolina selected to the team.
Handa, a 6-foot-3, left-handed pitcher, appeared in four games for the U.S. National Team, covering six innings of relief work. In those four games, the U.S. team went 3-1, with the only loss coming against Cuba in a round-robin game.
“To be honest, that game (against Cuba) we did not play our best – not even close,” said Handa, who pitched the final inning against Cuba. “But we had the day off the next day, had a lot of time to think it over, and moved on to the next game. After that, we started playing much better … and put in a gold medal effort.”
Outside of that 13-3 loss to Cuba, the U.S. National Team had only two other close games – its championship-game victory over Colombia, and a 7-5 win over Mexico in the final round-robin game.
“That game against Mexico was my biggest game in the whole tournament,” said Handa, who threw 1 2/3 innings of relief to close out the win over Mexico, striking out one.
“We played a lot of good teams like Venezuela, Colombia and Cuba. That was a lot of fun, just wearing that (U.S.A.) jersey was a different feeling. And winning the gold, that was amazing.”
Now that Handa is home, he’s focusing on school and playing fall ball with his travel team, the South Charlotte Braves. But he’ll take the winter off before beginning practicing with Cannon School’s baseball team.
“This experience has made me more of a leader on the baseball field,” Handa said. “And it’s also made me a better person off the field because of the things we learned about, stuff like social media and other stuff that you can make mistakes with.
“I’ve learned to be better with all of that. Being a better person and being a better leader is also a good reason I’m glad I made the national team.”
Bill Kiser is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.