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Archer the right guy to set tone for Team USA

Game 1 starter ready for 'highest honor' of baseball career
MLB.com @philgrogers

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Chris Archer will throw the first pitch for Team USA in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, and that's fitting. He's everything Major League Baseball had in mind when it created the event.

Archer brings to the baseball festival a fresh face, powerful arm and heavy thirst to compete against the best players from around the world.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Chris Archer will throw the first pitch for Team USA in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, and that's fitting. He's everything Major League Baseball had in mind when it created the event.

Archer brings to the baseball festival a fresh face, powerful arm and heavy thirst to compete against the best players from around the world.

Manager Jim Leyland jokes that Archer recruited Team USA, not the other way around as it normally works. There's a lot of truth in that, as Archer has pictured himself since the original run in 2006, when he was a high school senior in Clayton, N.C.

:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::

"I volunteered my services over 10 years ago, whenever it started," Archer said. "I knew from that minute on I wanted to be a part of something special. ... My favorite players were playing -- [Derek] Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens … at that time they were all peaking, they were in their prime. I was glued in. I was locked in. To be considered one of the best in the country, like those guys were, it's the highest honor I've achieved in my baseball career."

Archer has had international success before, shutting down a loaded Cuban team to help a U.S. team of Minor Leaguers qualify for the Pan American Games in 2011. But he and his teammates don't know what it would mean to win the Classic, because they haven't done it in three tries.

Ichiro Suzuki blasted a leadoff homer off Jake Peavy in the semifinal game at Angel Stadium in 2006, and the Americans have been off stride in the event ever since.

Leyland, the longtime Tigers manager who won a World Series with the Marlins in 1997, knows all about USA's 10-10 record. He also knows Joe Torre has rounded up a team built around perennial All-Stars Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Buster Posey, Andrew McCutchen and Giancarlo Stanton, among others.

"It's been a process to put this thing together," Leyland said Tuesday. "Joe's put a lot of pressure on me. He's given me a good team. It's exciting."

Leyland, who is coming out of retirement for the occasion, admired the Dominican Republic's 8-0 romp through the Classic in 2013 and dreams of having that type success after his team gets rolling with its Pool C opener against Colombia on Friday (6 p.m. ET, live on MLB.TV and MLB Network at Marlins Park.

Leyland won't look ahead, however, as he knows there are no guarantees in a pool that includes Canada and the defending champions, whom the U.S. will face on Saturday night (6:30 ET, live on MLB.TV and MLB Network).

There are, of course, notable roster omissions, who are either rehabbing injuries or declined the opportunity to play. But Leyland has been blown away by the desire of his players to represent their country, praising "commitment'' as the strength of his team.

"This is a pretty special thing,'' Leyland said. "I've worn a lot of jerseys but I've never worn one like this. ... It's different putting this jersey on, obviously. I think we all know what that means.''

Video: Leyland is readying Team USA for the Classic

Archer believes the time is right for this version of Team USA to roll all the way through to Dodger Stadium, then bring home the Classic championship in the March 22 final. He referenced the country's political climate.

"Given the timing and the circumstances of our country, I think it's a great opportunity for us, temporarily, to show we are united, regardless of the turmoil and things going on here and other places in the world,'' Archer said. "So it's always been a dream. And what's going on in the country right now makes it even better."

What kind of statement can Team USA make?

"Just that we are all unified, at least in my opinion,'' Archer said. "And it is a beautiful country of diversity and freedom and a lot of other things that other countries don't have. So for this moment in time, for this next two weeks, we're going to put on this jersey with pride and show we're diverse, we're united and what USA is really all about."

Despite unsuccessful efforts to add more elite pitchers, the United States will still have a deeper rotation than its rivals in the tournament.

Leyland plans to use two starters -- probably Marcus Stroman and Tanner Roark -- against the Dominicans on Saturday, with Royals lefty Danny Duffy attacking Freddie Freeman and Canada's lefty-leaning lineup Sunday. Mariners starter Drew Smyly was a last-minute addition to the roster, replacing catcher A.J. Ellis to give Leyland a starter if a tiebreaker game is needed Monday.

"I'm happy with the guys who want to be here," Archer said. "If there's any doubt or any uncertainty with somebody, it's better that they stay home, because that's what this is all about. This is about people who want to be here, who want to represent the game, who want to grow the game and want to represent their country."

The right guy is starting Game 1.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com and has covered Major League Baseball since 1984.

United States, Chris Archer