Todd Frazier was released by the Pittsburgh Pirates and granted free agency on May 13. Less than a month later the veteran third baseman helped lead Team USA back to the Summer Olympics. The U.S has qualified for the baseball tournament in the Tokyo Olympics by sweeping undefeated through the Americas Qualifying event in Florida.
The U.S. took full advantage of its cast of unsigned Major League Baseball free agents in the clinching game on Saturday night, a 4-2 victory over Venezuela at Clover Park in Port St. Lucie, the spring training home of the New York Mets.
Frazier went 4-for-4 with an RBI-double and homer that accounted for the winning runs. Veteran pitchers Edwin Jackson and David Robertson closed down the game, working the last three shutout innings. Robertson, the former New York Yankees closer who pitched for the team when it won the 2009 World Series, struck out two and walked a batter in the ninth to record his second save in the five tournament games. And most apropos, the final out was a grounder to Frazier.
“It’s hard to put into words. This really means a lot to me,” Frazier said after the game. “This is something I’ll never forget. This is one of the top moments of my baseball career, playing for your country. It was a packed house. You had to hear the crowd here chanting, ‘USA, USA.’ I had one of my best games in a long time. Now we’ve got a ticket to go Japan. I couldn’t be more excited.”
By winning and clinching the fifth of the six Olympic berths, the U.S avoided another qualifier June 19-22 in one last tournament that has been moved to Mexico from Taiwan. Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, the second and third place finishers in Florida, have a shot at attaining the final slot there.
The U.S. joins Israel, Mexico and Korea, countries which have already qualified via earlier competition that transpired before COVID-19 struck the world in early in 2020. Japan earns automatic entry as the host country.
It was the third time the U.S. had attempted to qualify, but the first time its young roster was substantiated with quality former Major Leaguers.
Manager Mike Scioscia, the former Los Angeles Angels skipper, who was named to head the squad back in April, knew the score coming in, but he made it all work.
“Our free agent guys worked in camp as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen to get themselves ready to compete,” Scioscia said. “We narrowed the club down. A lot of those guys hung on and they all performed well during this whole series. It was great to see Edwin pitch great tonight. It was great to see David close it out.
“And obviously, Todd. He was the cement of the team. He was the keystone. He had a terrific series and a great game tonight.”
It was a monster tournament as far as international baseball is concerned.
Team USA won out in Pool A, defeating Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. In the Super Round, they took care of business against Canada and Venezuela.
Scioscia, who had never worn the Team USA jersey, will now move on and help put together the Olympic club during the next seven weeks. The U.S. hasn’t won Olympic gold since 2000. The sport hasn’t been played in the Summer Olympics since 2008.
Major League Baseball’s rules will continue to make it difficult.
MLB allows Team USA and all others to only use players who aren’t on the 40-man rosters of the 30 Major League teams, and talented minor leaguers face restrictions by their parent organizations.
Frazier said he expects to see the experience through. As a 12-year-old, his Little League team from Toms River, N.J., defeated a squad of Japanese kids to win the 1998 Little League World Series.
“Everything’s coming full circle, man,” he said. “I did my job at 12. I dominated at 12. Now I’m 35 and we’re putting America on our backs again. I pinch myself every day about the career I’ve had so far. We still have a great opportunity coming up. To finish my career maybe winning the gold medal, that would be the icing on the cake.”