Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

U.S. Baseball Brings Gold, Olympics Home

The United States baseball team won its first-ever gold medal in Olympic baseball competition Wednesday or Tuesday or Thursday, I’m not exactly sure when. All I know is ESPN.com had it on Wednesday, so Wednesday, I guess. Either way, it doesn’t matter – all that matters is that for the first time, America won its first gold in America’s game.

Since baseball became an official medal sport in Barcelona in 1992, the team of professionals from Cuba has dominated the competition to the point where few observers thought that anyone, particularly the U.S., could have beaten them. Until the Netherlands beat Cuba in the preliminaries, they hadn’t lost a single game in Olympic competition. The reason for this is pretty obvious – Fidel Castro makes his national baseball team one of the highest priorities on his foreign policy agenda. Hey, its not like they need literacy or an army or anything, as long as they have clutch hitters and a high on-base percentage. But I digress; Cuban foreign policy is neither here nor there.

This is the same team that just last year had split a two-game series with the Baltimore Orioles, and their lineup of Albert Belle, Brady Anderson and Cal Ripken, Jr. Major league scouts have speculated that every guy on the Cuban squad could earn a spot on a major league roster today if he ever wanted. The Cuban national team is by no means analogous to America’s bunch of no-name prospects

The great thing about this team is that I have absolutely no idea who is on it. Literally. Despite my former derision of these Olympics, which I stand by completely, it is moments like these that make the Olympics, in general, so special. These guys walked in with absolutely no fanfare and only manager Tommy Lasorda in their arsenal. What they did was shock the world and make memories that will last a lifetime. That never could have happened in sports like basketball or track, where the hype factories kicked into overdrive sometime last June.

The baseball team’s roster reads something like a Who’s Who of players, in the sense that you can pretty easily imagine Lasorda on the first day of practice yelling out, “OK, now who’s who?” From Brent Abernathy to Sean Burroughs to Mike Kinkade to gold-medal hero Mike Neill, these guys may have bright futures, but they sure as hell don’t have the resumes you would expect for a team that shut out the Cuban national team. The only exception is poor Pat Borders, who was on the 1992 and 1993 Blue Jays World Series teams. Since then, he has kicked around the minor leagues. You have to give credit to the guy for taking the opportunity to represent his country, though, even if it means bringing the whole world’s attention to the fact that he didn’t retire but has been relegated to the farm system.

“Baseball was started by us, it’s played by us and now we won the gold,” said Ernie Young, who hit a bases-loaded single to score the game’s first runs. Because of that angle, this story could possibly be the most compelling of an otherwise dull Olympiad. I may be callous or ignorant, but the whole Cathy Freeman story doesn’t really get me there – Australian-aboriginal race relations have never really been an area of particular interest to me.

This story makes another case for returning the games to their original, pure form by removing professional athletes from the games once and for all. The Olympics don’t need to have big-name stars to make for great, gripping stories – they inevitably result from bringing the world’s best young talent together to one place. Had America sent our best players, the fact that we won the gold would have been both a foregone conclusion and a really boring story. But because it was unexpected, it makes our victory all the more sweet. On the contrary, seeing Michael Johnson, Maurice Green and Marion Jones sprint to success is, to me, wholly unexciting – we all knew it was coming. The lesson to learn from all of this? Hype killed the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and the media blitz that preceded it precluded us from enjoying it.

So to Ben Sheets and Ernie Young and Tony Sanders and all the rest of the 2000 gold medal team, thank you. Thank you for coming out of nowhere and giving America something to cheer about in a sport we hold so dear to our hearts. Thank you for reminding us what the Olympics are really about.

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