KENNEBUNK — When Kennebunk native Eric Cressey graduated from high school, he thought he’d be an accountant.

He was a multi-sport athlete and had a great relationship with his coaches, but he was a self-described “fantastically mediocre athlete.” He got interested in strength and conditioning after graduating from the University of New England and the University of Connecticut, but still thought he would be more on the research side of things.

Fast forward to the present, and he’s in Japan, serving as the strength and conditioning coach for the 18-and-under U.S. Men’s Baseball Team; Cressey kept some of America’s great major league prospects healthy as they competed and ultimately defeated Japan in a 2-1 championship game.

After graduating from UNE and getting a Master’s degree in kinesiology from the University of Connecticut, Cressey fell into strength and conditioning for baseball athletes as he developed his sports training facility, Cressey Sports Performance.

Cressey said that the tournament presents a number of unique challenges for coaches. First, while most leagues permit rosters of 25 players, the 18- u tournament limits teams to 20 players – many playing multiple positions.

The American team is whittled down over the summer from a large pool until only 20 players remain, after which they have a short time to play together before flying to Taiwan for their first game. Other teams like Japan pick their players far ahead of time and have more time to come together as a team.

“Their team had been practicing for 6-8 weeks where(as) we were reconvening in a week before going to Asia, a 14-hour flight to Taiwan, crazy time zone changes, not enjoying the food, (a) lot of obstacles … Really my job is to make sure they do as best they can when they hit the field,” Cressey said.

Since he was only working with the players for the short duration of the tournament, most of his job was focused on general health: nutrition, sleep quality, etc. Though this was not without challenges, soon after arriving a mild flu swept through the team, hospitalizing the catcher.

On top of that, they were seeded behind Japan, who shut them out in their first round robin matchup. However, they rallied in subsequent contests, beating Canada, South Korea, and Cuba in a close game, putting them face-to-face with their rivals, the Japanese national team; Japan utilized the same pitcher who shut the American team out earlier in the field.

This time, things were different – and two early runs from the U.S. team were all they needed.

“I think there’s a chip on their shoulder, like ‘We should be the best,’” Cressey said. “They really came out and played hard. We played in (Koshien Stadium)­­– it’s kind of like the Japanese version of Wrigley Field – so being able to beat Japan on the home turf was really neat for a lot of the guys.”

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