ABOUT MIRACLE ON GRASS
Miracle on Grass is the true story of how the 2000 USA Baseball Olympic Team – an unknown group of American minor leaguers – stunned the international baseball powerhouse from Cuba. They were led by Hall-of-Fame manager Tommy Lasorda, who came out of retirement to lead the charge for his country, and they pulled off the greatest upset in Olympic baseball history. Their triumph was remarkable, but the story of their coming together is even harder to imagine. Miracle on Grass is Fanucchi’s first-hand account of the events that took place over a two-year period, and an intimate, perceptive portrayal of the three incredible weeks Team USA spent in Australia, climaxing with their gold medal triumph over Cuba. Fanucchi gives readers a behind the scenes look at how the MLB executives in charge of this operation went about selecting the players, how Lasorda persuaded management into giving him the opportunity to coach the team, how the Americans narrowly qualified for the Olympics during a gut-wrenching game, and how capturing the gold medal in Sydney changed the lives of every player, coach and administrator involved.
This excerpt is from Chapter 9: Selecting Olympians
Team USA finally convened and came together for the first time on September 1 in San Diego, as the United States Olympic Committee had set up the entire USA Olympic Team delegation processing center at the U.S. Naval Base there on the San Diego coastline.
Once all of the USA staff members had arrived on-site, USA Baseball Executive Director Paul Seiler held a brief meeting, and then Team USA Manager Tommy Lasorda took the entire group of approximately 20 people (all of his coaches and non-player personnel associated with Team USA) out to dinner at his favorite local Italian restaurant. Always a lover of pasta, Lasorda saw it as an opportunity to build some camaraderie among the people who had given him this opportunity and had worked so hard to bring this team together. “We got a great idea that night what traveling with Tommy Lasorda and living with him for a month was going to be like,” said Team USA Administrator Steve Cohen, who would become one of Lasorda’s closest confidants. “He held court, served up the grand meal, toasted with some red wine, and had a lot of laughs. And all I know is that there was no bill to be found at the end of the night. It was a great time: We were all filled with such anticipation and excitement about what we were about to take part in.”
USA Baseball had planned to hold their team’s only stateside workout at Qualcomm Stadium the next morning, where the media could come and interview players and coaches and get their first look at the American baseball team wearing the red, white, and blue. That would be Lasorda’s first chance to address his players and to also tell the world how excited he was about putting on the USA uniform. Lasorda had missed wearing any baseball uniform, for that matter, and being in a dugout as well, and now that he was back managing a ballclub for the first time in over five years, he was basking in the spotlight that went with it.
“If they have the same attitude about going there as I have,” Lasorda said of his players, “then you’re going to see a bunch of guys that really want to win.”
The exposure Lasorda brought to their operation was also important to USA Baseball. What better way to ensure that their team and the sport of baseball wasn’t going to be overshadowed by the track stars, gymnasts, and swimmers who usually dominate Olympic Games media coverage, than by hiring baseball’s most recognizable and enthusiastic ambassador?
“We were very fortunate to have him,” said Team USA Selection Committee Chairman Bob Watson. “There’s no question about it.” While both sides needed each other, Lasorda wasn’t ashamed to admit his need might have been greater. He lobbied for the job for several months and jumped at the chance when it was officially offered to him back in May.
“When they called and said they wanted me to be the coach, I was so elated, so proud,” Lasorda said. “I was honored. People think I’m wacky when I say how important this is to me, to be able to do something for my country. But I think it’s an honor and a privilege.”
In fact, Lasorda went so far as to say his appointment as Olympic manager overshadowed all the other high points of his Hall of Fame career, including the Cooperstown induction itself.
“The Olympics are something special to me,” he said that day in San Diego. “I’ve done everything in the game of baseball. I started from the bottom as a player and I reached the major leagues as a player. I started at the bottom as a manager and I reached the major leagues as a manager. And then I was fortunate enough to be inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame. This is even greater. This is the utmost right here. This is a tremendous chapter in my life. There’s nobody that’s going to take it any more serious than me.”
Lasorda planned to immerse himself in the Olympic experience, to participate in the opening ceremonies and to live with the U.S. athletes in the Olympic Village. He planned to treat every moment as the last hurrah of his career he knew this could be, and to share his unique brand of motivational speak with anyone who would listen.
“I want to be with all of the athletes from the United States. I want to pull for them all. I want to be part of the team, no matter what sport they were competing in. I want to know them and be able to tell them how proud I am of them. I can’t wait until we walk into that stadium, and knowing that out of all those countries, I’m representing the greatest. That’s going to be the main thrill for me, to walk in that opening parade. I get chills watching it on TV. Just think what I’m going to feel like doing it.”
Lasorda’s Olympic fervor stemmed from a sense of patriotism instilled in his youth. His father Sabatino came to the United States from Italy shortly after World War I. He married and supported a family of five sons (Tommy being the second) by driving a truck for a rock quarry in Pennsylvania. It was a hard life, but one for which Lasorda says his father was forever thankful because of the opportunities his adopted country provided.
“My father used to sit at the head of the table,” Lasorda said. “And he’d say to us five boys, ‘You guys are very lucky to be born in the greatest country in the world. You do everything you can to keep it that way. If you have to fight for your country, you must do it. And, maybe, you might even have to give up your life for your country.’ Now, that’s a father, speaking in broken English, talking about patriotism. He wasn’t born in this country. But he came here, and he wanted his children to grow up in this country. I’ve served my country. I was in the United States Army and I felt proud to do that. I wore that uniform with pride, and now I want to wear this uniform with pride. Because to me, this is bigger than the World Series.”
A renowned motivational speaker, Lasorda planed to instill a similar sense of duty and national pride in his Olympic players.
“I will tell our players, ‘Hey, you don’t represent your hometown or that high school you came from or that organization you’re in,’” Lasorda said. “‘You represent the United States of America. And by golly, you’re going to be proud and you’re going to play your hearts out for the good of this country.’”
Of course, that cheerleading might only carry Team USA so far against the incredible talent of the Cubans, the advanced skill and precise pitching of the Japanese, and the overall efficiency of the Koreans. Even the Italian team and the host Australians (headed by former Brewers all-star catcher Dave Nilsson) could threaten Team USA’s quest to reach the medal round of the eight-team tournament.
But Lasorda was well aware of the challenges ahead. He knew that the Cuban national team split an exhibition series against the Baltimore Orioles just the past year and that that same Cuban roster would be in Sydney. He knew Japan would have players from its major-league teams. He knew the Korean league was shutting down in order to send its best players to Sydney, and the Italian team would feature several American-trained players of Italian descent.
His response to all of that? “The only thing I can say is, we’re not going 6,000 miles to lose.”
ABOUT DAVID FANUCCHI
David Fanucchi was born in Burlingame, California, and was raised in the small Silicon Valley suburb of Cupertino. A 1988 graduate of Monta Vista High School, Fanucchi attended California State University, Chico, and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism in 1993. Fanucchi has spent the past 20 years working in various public relations and communications capacities for both amateur and professional sports teams and organizations.
Most notably, Fanucchi was Director of Communications for USA Baseball from 1999 to 2006, during which time he served as the official Press Officer for the 2000 USA Olympic Baseball Team that captured the gold medal under Hall of Fame Manager Tommy Lasorda. He also served as the press officer for the 2006 United States team in the inuagural World Baseball Classic – a roster that included Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Mark Teixeira and Roger Clemens.
Fanucchi held a leadership role for the United States Golf Association’s (USGA) public relations efforts during the 2009 U.S. Open, and most recently has directed press coverage of the Champions Series Tennis Tour, starring John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, and Michael Chang among other legendary players. Fanucchi was inducted into the Chico State Public Relations Department Hall of Fame in 2009.
He serves as President of his own sports-business public relations consulting firm – Gold Medal PR – and currently resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife, Jessica, daughters Emma and Grace, and their dog, a beagle named Bogey.
Miracle on Grass is his first published book. You can visit David Fanucchi’s website atwww.davidfanucchi.com.