Chris Archer was a senior at Clayton (N.C.) High School in the spring of 2006, when the World Baseball Classic debuted as the sport's premier international tournament.
"I still remember watching Derek Jeter and Roger Clemens take the field for Team USA," Archer recalled Friday. "I was in awe. I realized there was no higher level of international competition for our sport. This is the equivalent of the World Cup of soccer.
"I told myself I wanted to be part of it someday. Subconsciously, I've kept that as part of my motivation throughout my career. Along with winning a World Series and the Cy Young, that was on my short list. Now to represent the U.S. on that stage, this is a dream come true."
With those words, the Rays right-hander confirmed to MLB.com that he's accepted an invitation to pitch for Team USA this March, in the fourth installment of the Classic. He joins Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer and Orioles center fielder Adam Jones among the confirmed players on Team USA's roster, with more names to be revealed during tthe coming weeks.
In addition to fulfilling a decade-long dream, Archer offered several more reasons for his enthusiasm in representing the U.S. He's excited to play for legendary manager Jim Leyland. He sees an opportunity to partner with other young stars and continue the sport's overall momentum following an epic World Series. And he recognizes the power of competing for Team USA -- and trying to win the Classic for what would be the first time -- following a presidential election that revealed deep political and cultural divides.
"In the climate of our country right now, it's so important for some really big names in the sport to come together," Archer said. "We can play and compete in tournaments like this and uplift the country. Hopefully we can make the country proud through the game of baseball.
"Knowing Adam Jones is going to be there and how he wants to have an impact on the community, it's going to be special wearing the 'USA' across our chests. We're going to represent our country in Miami and San Diego and wherever we play during the tournament, and deliver a strong message about coming together. We're not going to be blinded or overwhelmed by the circumstances we're in as a country. It's about doing what we can, through our national pastime, to make our country a better place.
"I've been thinking about that a lot the past couple months. The election has heightened those feelings for me. With everything that's been going on, it's definitely on my mind."
Team USA posted a 10-10 overall record during the first three editions of the Classic, with no appearances in the championship game.
"It is our national pastime, and we haven't been as successful as we should be," Archer said. "Considering that, one element I want to bring is my passion for the game. If there are any guys on the fence [about representing Team USA], my message is: 'If you're healthy, let's think about something bigger than ourselves, something we can do for our country and our sport, to bring a level of excitement to both of those things.'
"Four years ago, I was not even considered, I don't think. Four years prior to that, I was in the Minor Leagues. Four years prior to that, I was in high school. So the timing for me now is very divine, especially with having Max Scherzer already committed. Starting pitching is something we've struggled to get in the past. With Scherzer and I on board, hopefully we can attract some more big-time arms and win the thing.
"What's hindered the success in the past has been the starting-pitching aspect and maybe getting guys to buy in a little bit. For me -- for everybody -- we don't want to be embarrassed anymore. We want to represent our national pastime. That means bringing home a medal. For me, that means bringing home a gold medal."
Archer is coming off a second consecutive season of 200-plus innings for the Rays. He went 9-19 with a 4.02 ERA in 2016, but he regained his customary form after the All-Star break, posting a 3.25 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP.
Over the past several years, Archer has emerged as one of the game's most charismatic players -- as well as an international ambassador. Over the past 365 days alone, he's attended baseball events in Taiwan and Curaçao, as well as the Rays' historic trip to Cuba in March.
"Those places are extremely passionate about the game," Archer said. "You look at the Netherlands' team [which includes players from Curaçao], and they're as good as anybody up the middle. Their whole infield is going to be top-notch. Those guys in Curaçao live and breathe baseball. It was awesome to see all the young people there, and how inspired they were just watching Jonathan Schoop and Didi Gregorius walk by."
As for the U.S. roster, Archer had one more thought for Leyland and general manager Joe Torre: "I would love to see maybe another one or two young starting-pitching arms jump on board."
"A lot has to do with health, and a lot has to do with the [pitcher's] team having a full understanding of the proper arm build-up [during the offseason]," Archer acknowledged. "But it would be really cool to see a Noah Syndergaard-type of pitcher, or Jacob deGrom.
"I'm 28. I know I seem young, and I am young as far as my service time goes. But a Marcus Stroman, an Aaron Sanchez -- those guys would be important for the game and the excitement level the U.S. can bring."