This article appears in the March issue of ESPNHS magazine
Walker Weickel and Jesse Winker have been teammates on the Olympia (Orlando, Fla.) varsity baseball team for the past four years. This fall, they teamed up for the gold-medal-winning 18U National Team at the Pan Am Championships in Colombia. And as you can tell from this conversation, it was clearly the experience of a lifetime.
Winker: Wearing USA on your chest, that’s a huge deal. It gives you goose bumps every time you see it. Winning gold, bringing it home, that was awesome.
Weickel: Once I was able to hear my name called and Jesse’s name called, and we were able to put the colors on together, it was really just kind of a surreal feeling.
Winker: Two guys from the same school? That’s awesome. It was a true honor, and I’m glad we both got to do it.
Weickel: Going down to a foreign country like Colombia and being put in that environment of poverty and struggle and dealing with that off the field, it really gave you a sense of appreciation for what you play for here. Down there, when you’re from the USA, you’re kind of looked at like an outsider. We played Colombia. We played Venezuela. It’s a lot more boos and a lot more negative cheering in the crowd. At the same time, it kind of empowers you and gives you that sense of accomplishment — not just as a baseball player, but as an American.
Winker: It really was us 20 and our parents against Colombia. There were other countries there and every game everyone wants to beat you. That bus ride home after we won gold: There’s not a greater feeling.
Weickel: The coolest feeling of the entire trip for me was after the championship game standing on the podium. We all had our medals on and there were probably 15 or 20 thousand fans in the stadium for the ceremony. They started playing the national anthem, and the only people who could sing along were the 20 players and our families.
Winker: And the dog pile was awesome. We won on a walkoff hit, so we all came flying out of the dugout. And I’ll never forget it because I jumped on and I rolled off immediately, and I look over and I see Walker and he has the flag and he’s just running for the pile. He jumped so high; I’ll never forget that.
Weickel: After the game-winning hit, everybody just took off running. I stayed back for a second and undid the flag and made sure I was the last guy out on the field, carrying the flag. I was kind of the cherry on top of the dog pile.