SYDNEY -- Internationally, USA teams play a lot of separate games. But Team USA plays together.
That is most evident at the Olympics. And it was most evident at these Olympics Monday morning in Blacktown, where the U.S. softball team defeated China 3-0 in 10 innings to guarantee itself a medal after a poor start in Sydney.
There was the requisite United States fan presence, the chanting, cheering and painted cheeks of Americans who have traveled halfway around the world to the Games. But this time there was a different support, one from within the U.S. delegation when the country's Olympic baseball team showed up at the Blacktown Olympic Centre late in the softball team's first game of the day.
"That meant the world to us,'' said U.S. pitcher Michele Smith, whose team defeated Australia six hours later Monday to reach tonight's gold-medal game against Japan. "Just to know they were up there pulling for us made us feel great. It was great to hear them and know that they were behind us.
"That was definitely U.S. partiotism at its best.''
Tommy Lasorda has talked a red, white and blue streak ever since accepting the job to manage the U.S. team in Sydney.
He has said the Olympic baseball tournament means more to him than the four World Series he managed in during his 20 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers. And he has stressed to his players that they are representing their country here, not themselves, their hometowns or their professional organizatiion.
Until Monday, that was mostly talk. But it became more when her took his team en masse from practice at a baseball field within the Blacktown complex to the softball stadium. Players, coaches, support personnel and a few family members were among the large group that entered the stadium loudly and continued cheering through the remainder of the game.
"This is why we came to Sydney,'' said Lasorda, whose team plays South Korea tonight in the baseball semifinals. "These are United States of America, we pull for everybody. As long as they've got that red, white and blue on, we love 'em.''
Lasorda and his team arrived at the softball stadium in the bottom of the sixth inning of a 0-0 game scheduled to go seven and saw four more innings.
There was little mistaking their identity, as they all wore USA Baseball t-shirts and caps, or their presence, as the chants of "USA, USA,'' already coming from the primarily female crowd immediately became louder with a lower pitch. Lasorda often led the cheers, standing on the bottom row of the upper stands, riding the umpires and encouraging individual players by name.
"We knew it was close and we thought we should come over and lend some support and try to give them a little boost,'' said Mike Neill, an outfielder on the U.S. baseball team. "We're living on the same street in the village, so there is a sense of community. It's just awesome to come out and support the United States.
"Maybe it helped a little bit, but they were the ones doing it. Maybe they can return the favor for us (tonight).''
Judging from the softball team's reaction, that would be likely, if they didn't have a championship game of their own to play after an improbable comeback from three straight losses earlier in the tournament.
The players said they could tell in the dugout that their support had increased and quickly noticed who had elevated it. Several players looked into the stands as they were on their way to the batter's box to acknowledge the baseball team and a few found Lasorda after the game to hug him and thank him for being there.
"Yeah Tommy,'' shouted Sheila Douty as she threw her arms around Lasorda. "That's the way to bring out the troops.''
Actually, it was just part of the same army.
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