Realmuto seeking to wear gold of his own

Team USA's catcher in Classic treasures memory of donning uncle's Olympic wrestling medals

February 21st, 2023

CLEARWATER, Fla. --  hopes to feel that feeling for real next month.

He still remembers being a kid in Oklahoma, going to his grandmother’s house, taking his uncle’s Olympic gold medals out of a case and putting them around his neck. Realmuto’s uncle, John Smith, won six consecutive world championships in wrestling from 1987-92, including gold medals at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. He is regarded as one of the greatest wrestlers in U.S. history.

“We were always trying them on, wearing them, thinking how cool they were,” Realmuto said recently at BayCare Ballpark. “I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. I couldn’t believe somebody in our family was the best in the world at what he did. It was hard to fathom as a kid. Getting to watch my uncle on the biggest stage in the world, winning gold medals and then actually getting to wear those medals as a 7-year-old is awesome.”

It helps explain why Realmuto is excited to play next month for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

“In our house, we’d watch those replays all the time,” Realmuto said. “My mom and dad were there, so the camera would show our family in the crowd, rooting him on. It was almost a yearly thing where we’d watch his matches and relive the experience. So from that background that I had, it was all wrestling, and the pinnacle of wrestling is getting to the Olympics and representing the United States, wearing that singlet with the United State on it. So for me, I’ve always wanted to play for Team USA. I wanted to play in the last WBC [in 2017]. I was heartbroken that I didn’t get to.”

Buster Posey and Jonathan Lucroy were the top two catchers on Team USA in 2017. Realmuto, who had just completed his third year with Miami, hoped to be the third.

Team USA wanted more experience. It chose veteran A.J. Ellis.

“I’ll be proud to put that jersey on,” Realmuto said.

Realmuto will join Phillies teammates Trea Turner and Kyle Schwarber. Both Turner and Schwarber have represented their country previously as amateurs, like Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos.

“I was never even on the radar for that stuff,” Realmuto said.

But now he’s Team USA’s No. 1 catcher, alongside the Dodgers' Will Smith and the Yankees' Kyle Higashioka. They will join a squad that includes Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt.

“I’ll probably be hitting nine-hole, which is pretty cool,” Realmuto said.

But nothing would mean more than to win the Classic, have a gold medal around his neck and hear that national anthem.

“It’s hard to explain that feeling,” said John Smith, who is the head wrestling coach at Oklahoma State. “So many things go through your mind, but it’s really the greatest national anthem you’ve ever heard. It’s your own. It’s you. You’re representing your country. You’re just grateful to the people around you, the people that helped get you there. You don’t do it on your own. A lot of coaches, a lot of family support.

"It all comes together for that one moment, for that short, one minute and 15 seconds it plays. It’s beautiful.”

If only the Star-Spangled Banner could be stretched into a five-minute song.

“Or two days,” Smith said. “It’s the greatest moment. It really is. It’s emotional.”

Smith defeated the Soviet Union’s Stepan Sarkisyan to win the 1988 Olympic gold medal. He beat Iran’s Askari Mohammadian to win in 1992. Team USA might have to beat powerhouses like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Japan to win gold.

Asked if he had any advice for his nephew if he gets on stage to hear the national anthem, Smith said, “It gets better and better. I’m 57. I won my first Olympics at 21, and here I am still talking about it. It just never ends. I love to talk about it. It gives me a chance to relive something that was just incredible. Getting to accomplish your goals? Getting to do what you set out to do? Not everybody reaches that pinnacle, and you just feel really fortunate.”

Smith donated his medals to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Okla. Asked if he ever thought about sneaking over there and putting them on again, he chuckled.

“I think I enjoy talking about them more,” he said. “I don’t really need to see them.”

Besides, if Team USA wins gold and he gets the urge, he can always try on his nephew’s.