When David Eckstein was a college infielder at the University of Florida, he asked his coaches to send a note to USA Baseball to let the organization know that the ambitious young man in Gainesville, Florida was interested in tryouts.
He never got a call.
Several years later when the organization was searching for professional players to build a roster for international play, Eckstein – then a major league infielder – again sent word that he would love to come to whatever tryouts were necessary to have a chance to wear the red, white and blue.
He never got a call to tryout that year, either.
But a funny thing happened a few years after Eckstein was named the 2006 World Series MVP for the world champion St. Louis Cardinals; he finally connected with USA Baseball, working as an honorary manager during the 2014 Tournament of Stars, following in the footsteps of his brother, Rick, a former coach in the USA Baseball organization and current batting instructor at the University of Kentucky.
At the Tournament of Stars, Eckstein worked as a position player coordinator, watching hundreds of 18U players. His job: Find talent, which in that setting wasn’t difficult. “It was all around me,” he says.
He worked with USA Baseball all the way through the selection of the 2014 18U National Team 20-man roster. Suddenly, he had to look at the game differently. He had to mine for talent. “I legitimately didn’t know any of the kids, and you’ve only got five days,” Eckstein says. “You’re not looking for a kid to have a good week, you’re looking for a kid with the right reaction and attitude, and how they represent USA. You’re watching them in all aspects of the game including how they are on the bench. I’ll walk over and sit on the bench and just watch.”
It was during one of these impromptu bench sessions in ’14 that Eckstein first saw Nick Madrigal, now at Oregon State. He recalls being impressed. “I’m sitting on the bench, and the players are telling the other players, ‘Man, you got to get up and see this kid hit,’” Eckstein says.
“To me, Nick Madrigal was the best high school shortstop in the nation last year. I’d put him up against anybody, and I have no problem saying that.”
Madrigal was a 17th round pick of the Cleveland Indians last season, but opted to sign a scholarship offer with Oregon State.
“That’s a kid I see a lot of me in,” Eckstein says. “Because if he was even close to 6-foot [he stands 5-7] he’d have been a first rounder.”
Eckstein’s dream of wearing the red, white and blue uniform – remember his earlier efforts? – became reality this summer when he was named a field coach for the 2015 USA Baseball 18U National Team. Working as first base coach, hitting instructor and infield instructor, Eckstein received a gold medal as the team won a third straight world championship by beating host Japan in the title game of the 2015 WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup.
“It was such a great experience over there with that group,” says Eckstein, who had previously travelled to Japan as part of the 2002 MLB All-Star contingent that played a series against the Japanese. “I was so proud to wear the uniform. It was the first time I had ever gotten to wear USA across my chest.”
His work with USA Baseball (which Eckstein says he’s enjoyed as much as anything in his career) is a likely stepping stone for a return to the on-field work in a more permanent role, as instructor, coach or talent advisor at whatever level of baseball comes calling. “I definitely do see myself back on the field at some point,” he says. “Baseball is still my passion.”
His next dream: Coach with his brother, Rick.
But there’s more than baseball in Eckstein’s life these days. He’s taken on a role as a business partner at Her Universe, a company that was the brainchild of his wife, Ashley. The company (heruniverse.com) produces and markets superhero and sci-fi fashionable apparel for girls and women, a group previously unserved in the business world. Among the licenses Her Universe holds: Marvel, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Transformers and Star Wars – the latter a license Ashley was turned down for twice by LucasFilm – that despite that she’s the voice of Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars: Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. Ashley would not be denied. The third time she met with LucasFilm, she secured the license.
“It’s aimed at Fangirls,” Eckstein says of the business model. And business is booming. Eckstein knows a little something about persevering when the odds seem great. A 19th-round pick by the Red Sox in 1997 out of Florida, the 5-foot-6, 179-pound middle infielder played bigger than his physical stature.
David did not study business in college, but he’s been a quick study in learning how the business world works. He credits his baseball career for that.
“Business and baseball are a lot alike,” he says. “You’ve got to stay focused and stay with what you’re good at and not try to do too much. You’ve got to be patient.” For Eckstein, that patience was rewarded when USA Baseball finally called.
“I’ve really enjoyed it,” he says of the experiences with the organization. “And I was really honored to be a part of it.”