U.S. Olympic hitting and bench coach Ernie Young pulled his baseball gold medal from its secret hiding spot to show this year's team just before heading to Japan.
"I told them they have a chance to make history as the second U.S. team to win gold," the 2000 medalist said. "I'm tired of my buddies saying we're the only team. I want to be able to hold over their heads that I've got two. That'll make me the happiest I've ever been even though coaches don't get medals."
The Tokyo 2020 squad is a step away from fulfilling their coach's dreams as the United States takes on undefeated Japan on Saturday in the finale.
While attention largely centers on U.S. head coach and three-time World Series winner Mike Scioscia, the unheralded Young is the link back to the country's best Olympic run - a self-proclaimed calming force in the dugout then and now.
The United States beat Cuba 4-0 for gold in 2000 behind Young’s two RBIs. He knew that he was too old to play on another Olympic team but vowed to return as coach.
Organizers dropping the sport for the last two Olympics set him behind. But any missing passion surged back last year when U.S. baseball officials held a 20th anniversary reunion call - what Young called "among best times I've had on Zoom during pandemic."
Young sees similarities in the Tokyo team built with young pitchers and veteran hitters. The 2000 bunch overcame many doubters, and this year's group could soon as well.
Both squads beat South Korea in the semifinals. "Eerie," Young said.
He also vividly describes emotions from when Mike Neill caught the final out in 2000, and Young hopes his players on Saturday experience the same elation.
So does Niell, even though it would mean the older team losing their unique status.
"Go out and get the gold medal," Niell texted Young on Friday.