Doug Mientkiewicz remembers every pitch of his final at-bat during Team USA’s semifinal game against Korea in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
Following a multi-hour weather delay in a tie game, the U.S. got the potential winning run on base and Mientkiewicz stepped into the box with just one thought in his head: help get the runner over and across home plate so he could get out of his rain-soaked uniform.
But this game had already been an emotional rollercoaster so it was only fitting that the ending be a little more dramatic than that.
“I remember vividly. I can go through the entire at bat: I was supposed to bunt,” Mientkiewicz explained. “I showed bunt on the first two pitches but they were balls. Then (Lasorda) put on a hit-and-run and I fouled it off, so now it’s 2-1. (Lasorda) put on the hit-and-run again and (the runner) got picked off.
“At that point, I remember thinking to myself – it was a side-arm righty – ‘how have I elevated side-arm guys in the past? Get an off-speed pitch, get out in front of it, see what happens.’”
And he did just that. And what happened next? The dream scenario of every young kid playing a makeshift baseball game in their backyard or neighborhood park came true.
“I remember to this day – I’m getting goosebumps – I saw his fingers on the side of the ball and I saw the ball come up out of his hand – it’s like a still shot that I will take to my grave – and I remember thinking ‘oh god, put a good swing on it,’” Mientkiewicz recalled. “And I did.”
One giant bat flip and a lap around the bases later, Mientkiewicz was carried off the field by his teammates. Team USA hadn’t secured the gold just yet but it almost felt like it because they were more than ready for a rematch against Cuba.
“I remember Ben (Sheets) grabbed me by the back of the head and he goes ‘you just won us a gold medal,’” Mientkiewicz said. “And I was like woah.”
The next night, Sheets tossed a three-hit complete game gem and the U.S. finished what it and Mientkiewicz started by officially claiming the gold medal as their own.
Even now, Mientkiewicz has trouble putting the emotions of winning Olympic gold into words. What he does know though is that it was an experience unlike any other that, personally, gave him the confidence to go back to the big leagues with a more confidence.
I took a lot from it. It put my confidence back in me again,” Mientkiewicz said. “I had been in the big leagues before the Olympics and it wasn’t fun. I wasn’t good but I knew deep down inside that I wasn’t showing my full ability.
“(Winning Olympic gold) just gave me trust and belief again. Going back to the big leagues, I went back with a different attitude. I truly believed in myself at that point. Without that, there is no way I play in the big leagues. There’s no way.”
But he did make it back and once there, he excelled, finishing his career with a .271 average, .765 OPS and 405 RBI while winning a Gold Glove in 2001 and helping the Boston Red Sox win a World Series in 2004. He is one of just four players to win both an Olympic gold medal and a World Series Championship.
The Toledo, Ohio, native enjoyed a strong career playing the game he loves and he credits a lot of his success to that Olympic tournament and the mental edge having already played on the biggest stage in sports gave him.
“It gave me a little added boost to know that I could do this, that I could play well in games that meant that much. It gave me a feather in my cap where teams, later in my career, that were in the races thought about bringing me on because they knew the situation wouldn’t overwhelm me. I think the Olympics had a lot to do with that.”
But while he loved playing the game, now he does something that means even more to him.
“I was blessed and very lucky to play as long as I did,” Mientkiewicz said. “But I was born to be a coach.”
After making his coaching debut in 2012 with the Los Angeles Dodgers system, he quickly moved up the minor league coaching ladder. He was named the manager of the Minnesota Twins high-A affiliate, the Fort Myers Miracle, where he tied a franchise record by leading the team to 14 wins in a row to start the 2013 season.
He continued to coach within the Twins system for the next five years, leading his teams to league championships in both 2014 and 2015, and was named a finalist to become the manager of the big-league club in 2014.
Now, though, he serves as the manager of the Detroit Tigers Triple-A affiliate Toledo Mud Hens. But no matter where he is, he knows this is what he wants to be doing, especially with the players that need the extra push he did.
“When you’re trying to get some kid to trust you and gain trust to fix something, whether it’s a swing or whatever,” Mientkiewicz said. “You sit there and you slowly watch it run and you see it fail in the beginning and you keep telling them to stay with it and all of a sudden they start to have success. You’re like a proud dad and you just sit back and smile.
“It’s the guys that have the lesser names, when those guys hear their names or even when they just get the most out of their abilities and you helped with that, that’s what it’s about.”