The opportunity to represent your country is an incredible achievement. To be able to do it playing the sport you love, for the country you love, at arguably the biggest sports stage the world has ever seen is an experience like no other. Especially, for Chad Allen.
A three-time USA Baseball alumnus, Allen fondly recalls his overall experience being a member of Team USA at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games.
“Muhammad Ali lit the torch and we came through the top of old Fulton County Stadium. When we walked through the stands with all the fans in it, it had to be about 100,000 people, it was just the most surreal feeling,” continued Allen. “When you are walking in front of the ‘Dream Team’ and some of the greatest athletes in the history of the world, you really begin to realize the history of the moment.”
Participating in that ceremony, and sharing the stage with some of the most well-known athletes the world has ever seen can humble even the most prestigious of competitors. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Specifically for Allen and his teammates, walking into that stadium alongside those professional athletes, it was a moment they will remember forever.
That 1996 United States Olympic Baseball Team was unique in that it was comprised entirely of collegiate athletes. Some of them were teenagers and they were sharing a stage with fellow Team USA athletes like Michael Johnson, Carl Lewis and David Robinson. Their competition on the diamond, however, could not say the same. They were men with years of professional experience under their belts. The odds were stacked against Team USA, and they felt it.
“Everyone knew Cuba was the favorite in the Olympics. So, when we finally beat them [in the months leading up to the Olympic Games], it gave us an understanding that we could go out and do it again,” continued Allen. “Starting out as freshman and sophomores, we really didn’t know if we would have a chance to beat Cuba. You’re talking about Orestes Kindelan, Omar Linares; these are some phenomenal athletes and baseball players. They’re men who are 30-35 years old and we’re 19, 20, and 21 years old. That’s not easy to do.”
Team USA, led by Allen, remained undefeated in the Olympic Games leading up to their matchup against defending Olympic gold medalists Cuba. In fact, they had been on a hot streak, scoring 41 runs in five games while allowing opponents to score just 13.
“Our mentality starting out [against Cuba] was one of a little bit of nervousness and ‘how good are these guys?’. We knew that it was going to be one game and anybody has a chance to win just one game,” said Allen. “Unfortunately for us, we gave them a great game, but they ended up beating us 10-8.“
Team USA quickly bounced back from their loss to Cuba, winning two of their next three games and earning an Olympic medal. They finished the Olympic Games with a 7-2 record and scored 93 runs scored in total (10.33 runs per game).
Allen led the charge for the red, white and blue, starting all nine of the games for Team USA while hitting .354 with 8 RBI. He was instrumental in helping Team USA capture the bronze.
“Hitting is contagious, and when you have nine guys on the field that are absolutely crushing the baseball, it makes you step your game up,” noted Allen. “I think it was a combination of having great coaches and great teammates that allowed all of us to go out and play to the best of our abilities.”
At the time, the bronze medal was the third medal that Team USA had captured in its short Olympic history. Leading up to that, they won silver at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games and gold at the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games.
Allen was fortunate enough to be able to suit up for Team USA not once, but three times over his career. Before his experience in the 1996 Olympics, he was selected to play for the Collegiate National Team in 1995 after successful sophomore year at Texas A&M.
“For me, to go down to Florida and to see some of the greatest players in the nation made me realize how good the competition is in the United States and how much of an honor it is to be selected to the national team,” said Allen. “To be able to be on the same field as Mark Kotsay, Travis Lee, Billy Koch, and all those guys and to be able to play under coaches like Skip Bertman, Ron Polk, and Dave Snow was a huge honor for me.”
For Allen and teammates, they knew what was looming on the horizon. A shot at glory in the 1996 Olympics was hard to look passed, and it only served as motivation for the group during the summer of 1995.
“Knowing that the next year we would have a chance to play in the Olympics drove all of us to understand that we had to get better.” said Allen.
And get better they did. Team USA finished that summer winning 21 consecutive games and capturing gold at the National Baseball Conference World Series. They would finish the summer with a 36-6 overall record, including series wins against Japan and Cuba. Allen and this team laid the foundation for what was to come in the next year’s Olympic Games.
Ultimately for Allen, his debut experience with Team USA was eye-opening, and it served as motivation for the rest of his career.
“I’ll never forget going up to [Texas A&M Head Coach Mark Johnson] after my sophomore year, and telling him how good the competition was,” continued Allen. “It made me understand that if, we as a team, wanted to go a long way and make it to the College World Series, we had to work our tails off.
“Going past that, if I wanted a chance to play in the minor leagues and possibly in the big leagues, it made me understand that If these guys are this great, just imagine how good the talent in the big leagues are. So it gave me the work ethic to understand that I was never going to be so good that I wouldn’t have to constantly work to get better. I knew I would have to work hard to achieve my goals.”
Allen took his Team USA experience to heart, and just four years later, he suited up for the moment every baseball player aspires to achieve: his Major League debut.
This is part one of a two-part story about three-time USA Baseball alumnus Chad Allen. To read part two, click here.