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Nightengale: Team USA Finds Itself in Winning World Baseball Classic

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U.S. pitcher Marcus Stroman holds up with his MVP trophy after the United State defeated Puerto Rico 8-0 in the final of the World Baseball Classic in Los Angeles, Wednesday, March 22, 2017. Photo: AP / Jae C. Hong

They stormed the mound Wednesday night, streaming in from the dugout and bullpen, hugging one another tightly, blinking back tears.

They hoisted the decorative bald eagle mascot on their shoulders, ran around the outfield carrying the American flag, sprayed champagne in the clubhouse, and came back onto the field to celebrate the glorious moment with their fans and family.

You try telling Team USA they don’t show enough emotion as they lowered their heads, with gold medals hanging down from their necks, standing proudly on stage on the Dodger Stadium infield while the crowd chanted, USA-USA-USA.

Team USA, playing its own style of baseball, and expressing itself in its own fashion, won the country’s first World Baseball Classic championship, routing Puerto Rico, 8-0, in front of 51,568 zealous fans at Dodger Stadium.

“There’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s,’’ USA pitcher Danny Duffy said. “Everybody has a different way to celebrate, a different way to show their passion.

“That’s what made this tournament so fun, watching everyone having their different style.

“This was just a different animal.’’

Sure, perhaps Team USA wasn’t doing jumping jacks after home runs, running to the plate after runs, or thumping their chests after huge moments, but they relished the environment and passion shown by everyone else.

“The Dominican fans, the Puerto Ricans, the Venezuelan fans, just the energy that was in the ballpark for those games,’’ said Ian Kinsler, who hit a two-run homer in the third inning, “was beyond by expectations. It was crazy. I loved it.’’

The Americans say they formed a brotherhood in this two-week tournament. They really didn’t care what players snubbed invitations to join them, or anyone who downplayed the magnitude of the WBC. They had one another.

The U.S. team’s Ian Kinsler celebrates a home run with Jonathan Lucroy and Adam Jones in the final against Puerto Rico of the World Baseball Classic at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday. Photo: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

And now, they will forever be known as the first USA team to win the WBC, perhaps changing what this tournament will mean to future generations.

“It was amazing,’’ USA catcher Jonathan Lucroy of the Texas Rangers said. “That’s why we celebrated like we did, just like we won a postseason game. It was an amazing feeling. You’re not representing an individual team, but an entire country.I can’t see anyone turning this down again, not after seeing what we did. I think we’ve changed how everyone will look at the WBC.

“We were a part of history.’’

It didn’t matter that Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner weren’t here. Or Mike Trout or Bryce Harper either. They bonded together under manager Jim Leyland, refused to succumb to their past failures of never reaching the championship game, and kept their cool in the most trying times.

“I don’t mean this to sound wrong, but up until this point,’’ said USA manager Jim Leyland, “the other countries were probably into this event a little bit more than the United States. But we had players that wanted to be here, and that’s  the players you want.’’

Leyland, 72, was emotional after the game, saying it would be the last time he would wear a uniform. His fabulous managerial career ends with three pennants, a World Series title, and a WBC championship.

“I had the honor of managing for our country,’’ Leyland said. “The coaches have the honor of coaching for our country. The players have the honor of playing for our country.

“But this was really about the men and women that serve our country.’’

Marcus Stroman, ace of the Toronto Blue Jays, perhaps best symbolized what this meant to Team USA.

This is a guy who agonized over whether to pitch for Puerto Rico or USA . His mother was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and he wanted to please his mom. Yet, the more he thought about it, the more he felt compelled to pitch for Team USA. He was born and raised on Long Island, graduated from Duke University, and his father is a retired New York police officer.

It turned out to be the decision that altered history.

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook

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