March 15, 2006
Former Notre Dame standout Brad Lidge took a few moments during his off-day from the World Baseball Classic to reflect on the unique experience of representing Team USA in the elite tournament. Lidge is one of the top relievers on a talented USA bullpen, having already picked up a save and a win in the team’s first five games of competition.
The United States advanced out of the first round after beating Mexico (2-0, saved by Lidge), losing to Canada and then beating South Africa (17-0). The Americans have opened the second round by splitting games versus Japan (4-3; Lidge pitcher of record) and Korea (3-7) and are hoping to be in position to advance to the semifinals, with a final round-2 game remaining versus Mexico on the night of March 16.
Lidge – one of 16 former college baseball players named to the original 30-man USA roster for the WBC – currently stars for the Houston Astros as one of the top closers in the big leagues, after being selected by the Astros in the first round of the 1998 Major League Draft. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound righthander was just a 42nd-round draft pick after his senior season (’95) at Cherry Creek High School in Englewood, Colo. (which also produced current ND senior leftfielder/DH Matt Bransfield), before opting to join the Notre Dame program. Lidge went on to earn 1998 BIG EAST Conference pitcher-of-the-year honors and was the 17th overall pick in the ’98 draft.
(Note: if Team USA advances to the semifinal round, Lidge may provide a second diary to wrap up his WBC experience.)
Prior to joining Team USA, Lidge began his preseason workouts a few weeks early in his hometown area of Denver. His workouts included training alongside Chicago Cubs closer Ryan Dempster, one of the first players to sign with Paul Mainieri at Notre Dame (Dempster opted to enter pro ball directly from high school, as did recent Cubs free-agent signee Michael Restovich).
Lidge is joined on Team USA by his fellow Astros pitcher Roger Clemens while two of Lidge’s biggest fans – wife Lindsay and 15-month-old daughter Avery – currently are on hand in southern California to cheer on Team USA.
Brad Lidge World Baseball Classic Diary (March 15, 2006)
“The first time I was contacted about the World Baseball Classic was last year at the All-Star Game and one of the Major League Baseball promoters of the event asked me if I’d be interested in partaking in it. Actually, for me it was a no-brainer from the start. When I was at Notre Dame, I had a chance maybe to make that Olympic team and I got hurt and it never happened. And in the minor leagues, the same thing – I had a chance to be on the Olympic team that won the gold medal in 2002.
“So, it was a no-brainer for me to do it. They were briefing me throughout the year about what would be happening.
“A couple of my teammates, Roger Clemens and Morgan Ensberg, were being considered for the team as well but we didn’t talk about it a whole lot during the rest of the regular season because the format had not been finalized and people didn’t know the final roster. We were just concentrating so much on our own season that we didn’t talk about it that much. But during the offseason, we definitely did and we started figuring out the format and timing. We called each other and everyone wanted to make sure we would be ready and we were discussing our offseason workouts.
“They had a provisional roster of up to 60 players and they had contacted me fairly early to let me know I was going to be on the 30-man team, to get ready for things. I started playing catch earlier than normal, started throwing my bullpens with more intensity and just tried to get myself ready.
“I was training in Denver, it’s nice outside there but I also can throw inside with some other guys, including Ryan Dempster, the closer for the Cubs. We were able to get out stuff done and get in pretty decent shape. The thing I’m finding that’s pretty amazing is that the Asian teams look like they are in midseason form right now. For me, trying to get ready two weeks earlier than normal, I don’t even know if that was early enough.
“In terms of my velocity and break on my pitches, those things are there. But it’s hard to simulate real-game action in January and February and my control is not quite as sharp. The biggest thing it affects is our hitters timing and you are seeing a lot of hitters on our team not quite hitting their strides right now because their timing is not there. You are not going to throw a 90 mile-per-hour fastball to Alex Rodriguez during the season but right now you have a chance to do it. The other teams are in midseason form and we are not quite there – it’s just hard to simulate that live-game action during the offseason.
“It’s a lot like being a northern team in college baseball. Everything is totally different and there’s an adjustment period and your timing is not quite there, the rhythm is not quite there. That’s exactly what you are seeing in this tournament, with teams that start spring training earlier than we do and have been together as a team longer.
“I got the chance to meet some of the guys at the all-star game and a few before that. And then there are other guys I had not been able to meet until now, like Joe Nathan. We actually have fairly similar throwing styles. It’s great to watch other guy’s bullpens and ask others how they throw certain pitches and what they do with them. It actually is going to end up helping us all a lot, just being around everyone and their mindset of approaching hitters. We’re real lucky to have a bullpen like we have There’s no end to the talent
“Round-one was really exciting and right out of the chute everything had a playoff-type atmosphere. I wasn’t expecting that. I knew it wasn’t going to be like a regular spring training or an all-star game. From the get-go, it felt like we were back in the playoffs. I can only imagine if we are able to make it to San Diego for the final round, it’s going to have a World Series feel to it. All the games are sold out and it’s going to have a lot of coverage. I just didn’t expect such an intense atmosphere but it’s actually a great feeling to get the adrenaline going a little earlier than normal.
“Round-one really let me know that all the teams were coming out and playing for keeps. It also showed me how much pride the other countries have and if people want to beat the United States. If you let your guard down for a second, they will beat you.
“I felt real good with the outing in the first round, I was able to throw six pitches and have a 1-2-3 inning. It felt awesome because this is the first competitive situation I’ve been in since last year. The last couple games of last season, I did not feel I threw that bad but it did not end I wanted it to end. It was nice to get out there and get in a competitive situation again. It felt real good.
“When you look at their roster, Canada is not like an all-star team like we have but they have very competent major-league hitters. And they are going to make you pay for it. They actually did a fantastic job of executing. They were hitting gapers everywhere and came out of the chute ready to hit. We gave them mistakes and they took advantage of it.
“Right now, we are hoping for Korea to beat Japan and it’s tough to have to rely on someone else. You want to win every game and keep destiny in your own hands but it hasn’t happened for us so far. So we have to cross our fingers for other teams to win and that’s not a very comfortable feeling. You want to just rely on yourself and we have not been able to get that done yet.
“It’s an interesting format. It’s definitely not like the playoffs in a best out-of-5 or best out-of-7. In every game, you have to win or you will really decrease your chances to move on to the next round.
“It’s been an amazing ride to be with `Rocket’ [Roger Clemens] for the past two years and I hope it’s not over. When you see the way he’s throwing right now, he’s got himself ready for this thing and I’m sure against Mexico he will throw an unbelievable game. He has so much competitiveness and talent that it would be a shame for him to leave. My hope is that the competitive juices come back around and he’s back with the Astros but certainly his family and health will dictate if that happens.
“It’s definitely inspiring to be around a guy like Roger. You can tell how bad he wants to do this. Roger Clemens has done everything in his career, won a World Series, a Cy Young. But he has never been able to represent his country like this. So this is huge for him and this is how he wants to finish his career, whether he plays after this or not. He wants to help America and he’s an American icon. It’s definitely inspiring. He’s just as intense in this as in the World Series and it’s really fun to be around. I just hope the game versus Mexico will mean something for us.
“It’s kind of funny because when we worked out in Phoenix we got to work out in home clubhouse in Chase Stadium where the Diamondbacks play. But when we advanced we had to work out of the auxiliary locker room at Anaheim and right now we are working out of Cal State Fullerton, I think in the women’s soccer facility locker room. It’s pretty funny when you have this much talent and people making so much money in the same room and we’re right on top of each other for our lockers You can’t turn around without being right next to someone.”
“If nothing else, it helps the team get closer. I’ve had a lot of fun with these guys and you realize that it’s all about the game of baseball. You don’t need to be pampered to have team unity. There have been things that have helped the team build character.”
“Everyone at the games has flags and are chanting in languages where we don’t really now what they are saying. It’s kind of fun and we like to be playing in America. When we played Mexico in Phoenix, it felt like it was 50-50 among the fans. There were USA chants and there were Mexico chants. The fans were so into it. The players and fans from all of the countries want to show that they have a great brand of baseball. They have played baseball for a while and know what they’re doing.
“You face so many of these players in pro baseball and know where they come from. When they first asked me to play, I was thinking about what the Dominican Republic lineup would be like. They are very tough and have some great hitters, even without some of their best players in this tournament. So many of the guys on that team are MVP type of players, it’s just ridiculous. And because of all that, there’s no clearcut favorite because so many of these teams can beat each other.
“It’s just a great event and I’m glad I was able to be a part of it.”