US Baseball Team Stung by Failure To Win Olympic Medal
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) _ The most surprising team in the Olympic baseball tournament? No contest - the empty-handed Americans.
The United States ended a tournament full of disappointment with the biggest one of all Wednesday, failing to win a medal. The pitching unraveled under pressure once again and the offense went flat in an 8-3 loss to Japan in the bronze-medal game.
There was no surprise in the gold-medal game, as Cuba overwhelmed Taiwan 11-1 to preserve its five-year unbeaten streak.
The Americans’ failure to make the medal stand stung so deeply that several players said they would not have tried out for the team had they known it would come to this.
″Two months ago, if somebody would have said we were going to work our butts off, travel around the country, get up at 5 a.m. to go to Spain and then come out without a medal, I don’t think there’s a guy on this team that would have gone,″ pitcher Jeff Alkire said.
Outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds rubbed his temples and wondered whether all the effort was worth it.
It wasn’t, he concluded.
″It was two months of hard times,″ Hammonds said. ″Right now, I’m questioning why we went through all this and didn’t come away with a medal. I don’t feel we’re a fourth-place team. We’re much better than we showed.″
They never showed much against the teams that mattered: Cuba, Taiwan, Japan. The U.S. pitching staff gave up 39 runs in five games against the other three medal-round teams - nearly eight runs a game.
″We were very flat,″ outfielder Calvin Murray said. ″We were down after losing to Cuba. We had to come back and play for third place. There wasn’t a whole lot of incentive in that.
″Sure, we would like to leave with a medal. But last night, Cuba took what we had left,″ he said. ″They took our hearts.″
The Americans (5-4) sat motionless in their dugout for five minutes after Murray struck out, ending the game. Japan (6-3) celebrated by tossing manager Masatake Yamanaka in the air a few times.
The bronze meant a lot to them.
″After losing to Taiwan yesterday, we almost gave up on going out to play today,″ Yamanaka said. ″We were very depressed. But after all, we decided to play until the end.″
The Americans played unevenly during the tournament, leading to calls for a change in their Olympic baseball system.
Cuba breezed through the tournament with its veteran, state-sponsored team. Japan’s amateur team used the experience of playing together for several years to its advantage against the Americans, who were together for only a few weeks.
And Taiwan? Its hand-picked team has been together for two years, and the players had great financial incentive - Taiwan government officials said Wednesday each player would get $400,00 if they won the gold, $220,000 for silver.
″That’s something, isn’t it?″ U.S. coach Ron Fraser said.
Throughout the Olympic tournament, Fraser has called for changes in the way the United States assembles its team. He’d like to see U.S. amateur teams play together longer and do less barnstorming leading up to the Games.
″Some way they’ll have to change the system to compete because I don’t think there will ever be a Dream Team in baseball,″ Fraser said.