Team USA loose while forming bonds
Chipper, Jeter, Dunn emphasizing camaraderie on, off field
By Chris Girandola / Special to MLB.com
The exercises consist of extending the arms all the way up for the first repetition, halfway up on the second repetition and just slightly forward on the final repetition before continuing the next trifecta.
"It's definitely a fun one," Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said.
The orchestrated jumping jacks have been a source of entertainment for Team USA and, in some ways, it's been another part of the bonding experience for this collection of stars and role players.
Following Wednesday's stretch and warmup before Team USA's game against the Blue Jays, outfielder Adam Dunn called out to everybody to "bring it in."
And in a spirited fashion similar to their high school days, a refreshing picture of Major League players exhibiting patriotic flavor was painted when each team member put their hands together in a circle and chanted, "Go team!"
On Thursday, they did it again, except this team with Dunn penning the phrase, "Big leaguers!" for the rah-rah session.
"[We] have to get everybody motivated," said Dunn, who smacked a towering three-run homer in Team USA's final tuneup against the Phillies on Thursday, a 9-6 win. "This is a fun game, and the personalities we have on this team is that we enjoy playing together. We're trying to play loose and play our best."
The camaraderie isn't artificial this time as Team USA manager Davey Johnson attempts to redeem the club's disappointing effort in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, starting with Saturday's opener against Canada.
"It was kind of like glitz and glamour -- but not a lot of preparation," said Johnson, who was a bench coach on the 2006 edition. "This team is built differently with a good core of players. You can tell the guys genuinely enjoy being a part of this opportunity and like being around each other. You saw it the other day with their jumping jack routine. I thought that was pretty neat."
Each player involved, including returning members Derek Jeter and Chipper Jones, has described how early preparation is one of the keys this year, but they also stressed how the chemistry aspect holds just as much import.
"It has just consisted of starting things up a little bit earlier and getting physically and mentally ready sooner," said Jones, who hit .353 with a double and two home runs in 2006. "But the last time, I had only four at-bats going into the first game and this time, I have 20. Being able to be together longer has allowed us to gel more, though. It's been nice to see the way things have gone this week."
|"[We] have to get everybody motivated. This is a fun game, and the personalities we have on this team is that we enjoy playing together. We're trying to play loose and play our best."|
|-- Adam Dunn|
Said Jeter: "Over the past few days, things have started to mesh a bit and by the time we get to Toronto, things will be even closer."
When Jeter and Jones addressed the team before Monday's workout, they stressed the importance of coming together while leaving egos at the door.
"They talked about how this team was built to win, not an All-Star team," said Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, who allowed one run on two hits against the Phillies. "It's a team that they think can win this tournament. They said to 'go out there and be who you are.' They said, 'We chose each one of you for a specific reason and you don't have to come here and try to be any different than you are on your regular team.'"
With a contingent of 14 former All-Stars, three former MVPs and three former Rookies of the Year, setting that tone has been important for the development of that bond over the past few days.
"We were talking about that today, how you can stick a group of guys in the locker room and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't," Dunn said following Team USA's game against the Phillies in which Jones, Ryan Braun and Brian McCann added to the homer barrage. "It's weird how you can get this many guys together that like each other and have fun with each other. You can see how we're getting more comfortable with each other on the field as well."
Mets third baseman David Wright, who playfully accepted a "three-week truce" with Rollins earlier this week, echoed Dunn's sentiment.
"We're still trying to get positioning down and still trying to get to know each other strengths defensively," Wright said. "It's been a blast so far to put the same uniform on and get to know these guys away from the field. We've got big groups of us hanging out, because, when you put that same uniform on, you get in the trenches with each other, it's good to get to know each other on that personal basis. We've all become really close-knit."
Jones already can sense that his second time around will match, if not exceed, the last experience with fellow American ballplayers.
"We have guys with World Series experience and WBC experience, too," Jones said. "I've already said that I had my best baseball experience of my career in '06. It grows on you and it's a lot of fun. We have a pretty balanced group of guys this time. I'd like to have this type of bullpen. We have some great starters. And we have a good mix of personalities. We're having fun any chance we can get."
And now that the bonding is in full effect, the next stage is stepping on the field with their USA teammates.
When Rollins was asked what it will be like for the team in front of 45,000 Canadian fans, the Phillies shortstop had to recalculate: "Actually about 43. There'll be a couple Americans up there. It'll be a lot of fun, a chance to show pride in your country."
Having that pride is what has brought this team together and, for them, is what they hope can solidify a title.
"There's nothing like rounding the bases with 'USA' on your chest," Jones said. "I'm looking forward to this, and it's something that all of us we'll always cherish."
Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.