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Down memory lane for young players

Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009

A handful of Pirates fondly remember their success at the 2007 World Cup.

The memory of the 2007 baseball World Cup that sticks with catcher Jason Jaramillo involves a jumble of red, white and blue and a lot of yelling.

"I just remember the dogpile on the field," Jaramillo said. "We were so excited. It was the first time we'd won the World Cup in 30-something years. I was at the bottom of the pile. I got in there right away, right after the last out. It was real cool."

Team USA went 9-1 in the tourney and beat mighty Cuba, 6-3, in the title game. Cuba had won the previous 10 tourneys. The United States had never won a Cup in which Cuba participated.

"It was a great experience, one of the best experiences of my life," third baseman Andy LaRoche said. "That's as close to a World Series or a playoff atmosphere as I've ever been."

Back then, Jaramillo was playing in the Philadelphia Phillies' system and LaRoche was one of the Los Angeles Dodgers' top prospects. Two years later, they are teammates on the Pirates.

There were four other future Pirates on Team USA: Jeff Karstens, Brian Bixler, Delwyn Young and Steve Pearce.

"It seems like we're getting that team reunited over here," LaRoche said.

They soon could be joined by two more Team USA alumni. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez and pitcher Brad Lincoln are on this year's American team, which today will play its last second-round game against Italy. Round three begins Tuesday in Italy.

It's not usual for players selected for the World Cup to quickly rise to the big leagues. Of the 24 players on Team USA's roster in 2007, 14 are currently on major league rosters.

LaRoche batted .333 with three homers and 10 RBI in the 2007 Cup. Karstens went 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA

"We had a great team, a bunch of guys who are in the big leagues now," Pearce said. "We knew we were the best team out there."

Team USA opened with a 3-0 victory against Mexico, with Karstens notching the win. Jaramillo and Bixler scored the team's first two runs.

One of the Americans' more dramatic wins was a see-saw, 10-7 battle against Chinese Taipei. Taiwan was the host country for the tournament.

"It was one of the most exciting games I've ever played in, in my life," Pearce said. "We thought we'd taken the crowd out of it with a big first inning. Then they got a two-out base hit in the first inning, and the crowd went nuts. We were like, 'What the heck is going on?' It was definitely a hostile environment."

There was a group of 40 or so Americans in one section of the ballpark.

"Nobody on the team knew who they were," Pearce said. "They had the 'USA!' chants going on. That was definitely awesome to see. It made us realize we were representing the country."

Team USA edged South Korea in the quarterfinals and blanked the Netherlands in the semis. That set up the showdown with Cuba.

"Cubans play like the Latins you see here in the majors," LaRoche said. "They don't take a lot of pitches, and it seems like all their pitchers throw fuzz. They swing hard, and they all throw hard. And they've all been playing together for five to 20 years. They're expected to win."

Although Cuba was favored, the Americans were not in awe.

"I didn't feel like an underdog because I didn't know anything about the Cubans," Bixler said. "I'd heard a little bit about them. We wanted to show we were the best team there."

Bixler and Young scored runs, and Jaramillo hit an RBI double, as Team USA built an early 4-0 lead. When Ariel Pestano ended the game with a fly out, LaRoche jumped into the middle of the raucous celebration.

"In the picture in the paper, you can see my feet sticking out of the pile," LaRoche said with a laugh.

Where are they now?

Team USA's roster for the 2007 World Cup:

Player, pos -- 2007 level -- 2009 level

Bryan Anderson, c -- Cardinals AA -- Cardinals AAA

Brian Bixler, inf -- Pirates AAA -- Pirates majors

Jerry Blevins, lhp -- A's AA -- A's majors

Chris Booker, rhp -- Nationals AAA -- Out of baseball

Tyler Colvin, of -- Cubs AA -- Cubs AA

Brian Duensing, lhp -- Twins AAA -- Twins majors

Lee Gronkiewicz, rhp -- Blue Jays AAA -- Out of baseball

Mike Hollimon, inf -- Tigers AA -- Tigers AA

Jason Jaramillo, c -- Phillies AAA -- Pirates majors

Jeff Karstens, rhp -- Yankees AAA -- Pirates majors

Andy LaRoche, inf -- Dodgers AAA -- Pirates majors

Evan Longoria, inf -- Rays AAA -- Rays majors

Neal Musser, lhp -- Royals AAA -- Astros AAA

Jayson Nix, inf -- Rockies AAA -- White Sox majors

Josh Outman, lhp -- Phillies AAA -- A's majors

Steve Pearce, inf -- Pirates AAA -- Pirates majors

Chris Perez, rhp -- Cardinals AAA -- Indians majors

Colby Rasmus, of -- Cardinals AA -- Cardinals majors

Justin Ruggiano, of -- Rays AAA -- Rays AAA

Steven Shell, rhp -- Angels AA -- Mariners AAA

Jeff Stevens, rhp -- Indians AA -- Cubs majors

Dallas Trahern, rhp -- Tigers AA -- Marlins AAA

Matt Wright, rhp -- Royals AAA -- Royals AAA

Delwyn Young, of -- Dodgers AAA -- Pirates majors




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