News Column

Team USA Has a South Florida Feel

March 12, 2013

Hal Habib

The crowd at Flanigan's in Hialeah cheered as Team USA rallied to beat Canada in the World Baseball Classic, but three folks at one particular table had more reason to feel giddy than anyone else.

Sitting there was Gio Gonzalez, 2012 Cy Young candidate for the Washington Nationals and a Hialeah kid whose unusual choice of munchies offered the only clue that when Team USA meets Puerto Rico in the second round tonight at Marlins Park, he will be the Americans' starting pitcher.

"Shrimp scampi, chicken wings and a lot of water," Gonzalez said. "A lot of water. Want to stay hydrated, man. This is Miami. This place dehydrates you immediately."

Gonzalez attended Hialeah High and was allowed to stay home because USA manager Joe Torre had determined Gonzalez wouldn't pitch during the first round in Arizona. Regardless of where Gonzalez was for the USA-Canada game Sunday, he was going sweat it out, since the USA had to rally to avoid embarrassment for the third consecutive time in the WBC.

"For us not to make it here would have been pretty bad," Kansas City Royals infielder Eric Hosmer said.

Making it to Miami, on the other hand, is pretty good for those with South Florida ties on Team USA's roster, including the Marlins' Steve Cishek and Giancarlo Stanton, plus Hosmer, who is from South Miami, and Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, who played for the University of Miami.

No telling whether it also is a happy homecoming for Heath Bell, since the closer who flopped last season with the Marlins before landing with the Arizona Diamondbacks didn't address the media during the team's workout Monday.

Clearly, the overriding feeling on the club is relief. Team USA is a mere 9-8 all-time in the WBC, has never reached the final and called on an ace manager, Torre, for this go-round. Torre was relaxed Monday and said he figures his players can play more relaxed now, but that's in contrast to how this adventure began.

"First day, I was nervous as a cat," Torre said. "I mean, I was just jumpy as all get-out. And I said, 'No wonder I'm not doing this anymore.' "

On Monday, Stanton and Cishek welcomed their USA teammates to their home ballpark, laughing at newbies who marveled at the spacious playing dimensions. Being a pitcher, Cishek naturally found it funny, and even slugger Stanton could enjoy it since teammates agreed he could make any ballpark seem like a Little League facility.

"I'm on the visitors' side, which seems weird," Stanton said in Team USA's first-base dugout. "I kind of miss this place."

Hosmer admitted that when the schedule comes out each year, he checks to see if the Royals are visiting the Marlins during interleague play. He reminisced about attending Marlins games, including the 1997 World Series versus the Indians, at what is now called Sun Life Stadium.

"I went to Game 7 in '97, when Bobby Bonilla's home run landed probably about seven seats away from me," Hosmer said. "My uncle took me to that game. I think this is going to be pretty similar to that. The atmosphere obviously is not as much as a World Series, but if there's anything close to it -- a close second -- this is it."

Hosmer hardly was surprised to see a South Florida feel around the clubhouse.

"From Broward County to Palm Beach to Dade County, there's talent everywhere here," he said. "I remember in high school how competitive it was growing up. That's the beautiful thing about playing baseball down here. You play minor-league baseball and you recognize half the people because they're from South Florida and you've played against them. It's the place to be for baseball."

Nobody has to tell Gonzalez, 27, who was third in the Cy Young voting behind winner R.A. Dickey and the Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw after going 21-8 with a 2.89 earned-run average last season. Gonzalez signed with Wilson this offseason, so the manufacturer created the "G2K" glove, not only with his silhouette etched into the leather, but with a special touch written on the side: "Hialeah," it says.

The only thing that could be better? Taking the mound tonight with that glove.

"Think about it," Gonzalez said, showing off his glove. "A kid from Hialeah, living a dream, bro."

Source: (c)2013 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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