Trio from '06 Team USA reunites at World Series
Stomping Grounds: Harvey, Moustakas, C. Colon first met on silver-medal-winning squad
KANSAS CITY -- They remember the sunny afternoons by the hotel pool, playing pranks on their teenaged teammates and experiencing those first pangs of homesickness after being dispatched to play ball while representing the stars and stripes.
Matt Harvey, Mike Moustakas and Christian Colon are all part of the scene on baseball's biggest stage in the 2015 World Series between the Mets and Royals, reuniting a trio from Team USA's 2006 silver-medal-winning squad from the IBAF World Junior Baseball Championship in Cuba.
"Obviously we all knew that we had a gift and were talented at what we did, but to be playing against each other in the World Series, I don't think at the time we ever really thought about it," Harvey said.
Nearly a decade after Team USA lost their gold medal game to Korea on a ninth-inning, bad-hop grounder, there is a very real connection between the players on that 18-man squad, assembled from cities coast (Harvey; Connecticut) to coast (Moustakas; California).
"He was a great pitcher then, too. Matt's a good dude," Moustakas said. "We had some fun out there. He's a phenomenal pitcher, great dude. It's going to be fun going out there and facing him, having to try to get some hits off of him."
Head coach Jason Hisey, who still oversees the baseball program at Pima (Ariz.) Community College, said that he didn't see "a bad apple in the whole bunch" on a roster that also featured future big leaguers like the Braves' Freddie Freeman and Matt Dominguez, now in the Blue Jays organization.
Indeed, they were deep: Moustakas wasn't even asked to handle third base in that tournament; he was shuffled off to left field, stealing a home run with a catch in a key game against Cuba while serving as a backup first baseman and emergency third catcher.
"How did we lose?" Hisey said, laughing. "It was pretty obvious that Matt Harvey had a pretty special arm, even at that young age. The ball exploded out of his hand. Mike, you could just tell that he had considerable skills and was so coachable. He was so respectful, so mature for his age. Without injury, you knew that these kids were going to make it to the big leagues."
Moustakas and Colon both remember being hesitant to leave the team hotel in Ciego de Avila, unwilling to wander too far off campus.
"At the beginning, it was, 'Where do we go? Who do we stay by?'" Colon said. "We didn't want to get in trouble; we're 16, 17 years old. It made me tougher. Going out there, no mom, no dad, just a group of guys together, it kind of prepared me for pro ball and to learn how to have success."
Perhaps it was an unintended consequence, but the situation created an opportunity for the bright young athletes to bond outside the lines.
"I think we all spent some time together," Moustakas said. "We couldn't really go many places in Cuba at that time so we all stayed in the hotel and had some fun -- the pool, hanging out in the rooms and stuff. It was a good time."
Colon said that his first impression of Harvey, even then, was "dominant." Harvey recalled that he first cracked 90 mph with his fastball as a high school sophomore, so the right-hander was bringing plenty of heat by the time he suited up.
"He was just always loud, man. Just always loud talking," Colon said. "I can remember him just being really outgoing. He just really cared for his teammates; in the clubhouse, on the bench, encouraging the guys all the time. And when he pitched, it was lights out."
Harvey started the gold medal game against Korea, which USA lost, 4-3, on that two-strike, two-out grounder, which Hisey said hit a rock and shot into center field. Even with second prize, Hisey saw a silver lining in that the squad bounced back after losing its first two games and barely qualifying for the quarterfinals.
"From a coaching standpoint, the kids really represented America well," Hisey said. "We certainly could have cashed it in there when we were 3-2 as the four seed. They fought all the way back and were three outs away from winning a gold medal."
This is a World Series featuring those types of connections; for example, Harvey and Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer played together as high schoolers for a team in Ohio. Being able to renew those acquaintances on a stage like this is something of a dream come true.
"I think the bond and the relationship that we all have as baseball players is what makes this so much fun," Harvey said. "Being able to watch those guys last year in the World Series and being able to play with them now, it's pretty surreal and pretty exciting."