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|August 25, 2000||
US hopes to mine gold on the diamondLarry Fine in New York
Circumstances preclude a United States Dream Team in the first professional Olympic baseball competition next month.
Yet the team from the birthplace of the game still envision Olympic glory on the diamond in Sydney.
"Everybody is going to be up for this," said former major league slugger and front office General Manager Bob Watson, who is co-chairman of the U.S. selection committee.
"I'll be disappointed if we don't go there and win the gold."
The notion of a U.S. baseball Dream Team, akin to the NBA squad who electrified Olympic basketball, was always strictly fantasy.
The Games coincide with the last two weeks of the major league pennant race, so the prospects of Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. or pitchers Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux strutting their stuff were never realistic.
Still, the United States will put together a team of top flight future major leaguers, managed by former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, to compete in what promises to be the highest calibre international baseball tournament yet seen.
"We're still going to have a very good representation of baseball in the United States," said Watson, who added wistfully: "We would love to field a Dream Team and have McGwire and Maddux and those guys play for us."
Japan has arranged for each of its top-level pro teams to give up one leading player each for their Olympic squad, while South Korea is shutting down its leading league to send an All-Star squad to Sydney.
Australia, led by hard-hitting Dave Nilsson, who left the major leagues in order to be able to play for the host country in the Olympics, is expected to be competitive and, as Watson says of the defending champions: "Cuba is Cuba."
The United States' 24-player squad will be announced next week, but Watson is still in the dark about which players will be available for selection.
"Our names change from day to day, because of guys we've earmarked either getting called up to the big leagues, because of injury or because of of clubs withholding players."
Everybody is eligible for selection except for players on Major League Baseball rosters as of September 1, hence the need to be briefed on call-up plans of the big league teams.
Watson, who has been scouting minor league and college players all over the country since spring training, said he had started with a list of 600 prospects and has whittled it down to 42.
"I've scouted every league, every nook and cranny in this country to uncover players," he said.
The United States at first explored the possibility of luring recently retired major leaguers to the Olympics to mix experience and big-game savvy into a predominately young squad.
But initial enthusiasm from some of the veterans faded and others simply could no longer cut it between the lines.
"There was some interest at the start from recently retired or released guys," said Watson. "But they still had to show myself and the selection committee that they could still play.
"Chili Davis and Wade Boggs pulled out early of their own volition," said Watson, who added that many veterans found it hard to physically crank it back up after leaving the daily grind of the game.
Watson said former Twins and Athletics catcher Terry Steinbach was a serious contender for a berth until he tore his hamstring as was Orestes Destrade.
Former Expo, Yankee and White Sox outfielder Tim Raines was still under consideration for the team, Watson said.
A strong U.S. team in the 1996 Games belted 32 homers and averaged more than 10 runs a game but their dreams of gold were dashed by Japan who routed them 11-2. In the gold medal game in Atlanta, Cuba triumphed 13-9 to retain the Olympic title.
The Americans' 10-3 victory over Nicaragua gave them the bronze -- the first official medal for USA Baseball.
More than a dozen of the 1996 U.S. Olympic squad have gone on to make an impact in the major leagues including Troy Glaus and Jacque Jones and pitchers Billy Koch, Kris Benson, Jim Parque and Jeff Weaver.
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