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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Lasorda Show Goes On and On . . .

Baseball: Manager regales world after unbeaten U.S. stops the Netherlands, 6-2.

September 20, 2000|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BLACKTOWN, Australia — Red, White and Bluetown is more like it, at least to anyone passing within shouting distance of Tom Lasorda's All-American traveling vaudeville act behind home plate at the Baseball Center today.

"I have tasted it all!" Lasorda bellowed for the cameras and the microphones moments after his U.S. Olympic baseball team had defeated the Netherlands, 6-2, to improve its round-robin record to 3-0.

"Manager of the year! Sixty-three playoff games! Two world championships! The Hall of Fame! What more could a guy ask for?

"I asked for this," Lasorda continued, jabbing a finger into the USA logo embroidered on his chest, "because this is bigger than all of that!"

The foreign media were lapping it up, laughing, nodding, scribbling down every syllable.

Americans in the scrum cringed and waited for the first invocation of the Big Uncle Sam in the Sky.

"I wanted this because I wanted to let these young men know that when the Dodgers win, only Dodger fans are happy. But when we win, all of America is happy!

"Every American. . . . There is not one American pulling against this team! A lot of people are pulling against the Dodgers. A lot of people are pulling against the Giants. A lot of people are pulling against the Phillies. But nobody is pulling against this team!"

Lasorda was heading for the big finale. Drum roll and fife wafting in the background, please.

"Because," Lasorda said, eyes narrowing for effect, "this is America!"

Actually, no, this is Australia, even better for Lasorda. Audiences here haven't yet been hammered over the head with the Lasorda shtick. They have heard about the myth, but they are curious to see and hear for themselves.

Fresh meat, in other words.

Lasorda loves every minute of it, dusting off the moldy oldies, the fruits of victory and all that, replacing only Dodger blue with Yankee stars and stripes.

"These guys," he said, referring to the anonymous minor leaguers composing most of the U.S. roster, "remind me of my '88 Dodger team. We took that team to Oakland [for the World Series], a bunch of no-name guys, and we beat them in five games."

They also remind Lasorda of his Dodger teams of the 1970s.

"Buckner! Garvey! Paciorek! Russell! Cey! Yeager! Ferguson! Joshua!" Lasorda said, ticking off the roll call. "The same way I felt about those guys, I feel about these guys! I've only been with them a few weeks, but I feel like I've known them for a year!"

With this group, however, Lasorda still needs a scorecard. His winning pitcher, Kurt Ainsworth, normally toils for the San Francisco Giant double-A club at Shreveport. His right fielder, Ernie Young, who drove in three runs with a home run and a double, batted .262 this summer with Memphis, the St. Louis Cardinal triple-A affiliate.

The closest thing to a marquee name on the U.S. roster is former Toronto Blue Jay catcher Pat Borders, who sat out the game against the Dutch.

In fact, the Netherlands could match the Americans in the name recognition department. Batting cleanup for the Dutch was Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens, who spent parts of seven seasons with the New York Yankees, Montreal Expos and Arizona Diamondbacks. Meulens is eligible for the Dutch Olympic team because he was born in Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles.

"Everyone told me, 'This is not a good club,' " Lasorda said of the roster he was handed last month. "But that's just because nobody's heard of them. A lot of these guys, they're going to be in the majors in two or three years."

Lasorda counted Ainsworth among that group. The 6-foot-3 right-hander gave up one run and five hits through 6 2/3 innings, striking out three.

Still, the undisputed star of the show is Lasorda, who towers above his team and the Olympic sport of baseball the way Bela Karolyi dwarfs U.S. gymnastics.

"He's a legend," Ainsworth said of Lasorda. "People all over know who he is. Even those from other countries. Everybody's heard of him."

And Lasorda, in this tournament, is just warming up. The Americans play Korea today, then Italy on Friday.

Friday is Lasorda's 73rd birthday.

USA vs. Italy on Lasorda's birthday?

Rest assured, the bolognese will be flying fast and furious that night.

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