There's never really been a moment to define Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. It's a team that usually feels like MLB leftovers—once you've taken out all the players that bring dynamism to the game and clubhouse. When was the last time Luke Gregerson rode in to Spring Training on a horse?
The Dominican Republic, on the other hand, came into the WBC with a huge, gold, plantain-shaped sense of national pride and boasted legendary (and surprisingly) old timers like Robinson Cano, Adrian Beltre, and Jose Bautista. It just feels like the USA half-asses it every (roughly) four years—their best showing since 2006 was at fourth place—whereas every other country brings the heat.
What the USA couldn't have anticipated with its superstar-deficient roster (no Trout, Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper, and only six 2016 All Stars), was the rise of a folk hero. That man, last night, was Adam Jones.
Playing in his native San Diego with a sellout Petco Park crowd of 43,002, Jones stamped his name into Team USA lore by making one of the finest catches you could have asked for: seventh inning, clutch moment, back to the wall, after a dead sprint, couched in fans waving flags—to rob his Orioles teammate Manny Machado, after a gorgeous swing, of what was surely going to be a home run.
The moment was enough to inspire this:
Of course, there were a couple of plays that got them there—notably the much lauded Giancarlo Stanton, doing Stanton things:
But it was the opportunity for a less-praised player to take a big stage that gave this moment that extra kind of shine. Just think of how many people complained about Mike Trout not being there—yet here comes Adam Jones to make that Mike Trout play. Fittingly, Jones was greeted with a rare occurrence in his 11-year career, according to him: chants of his name ringing across the stadium. Hell, even Machado had to tip his hat to Jones as Machado's jog extinguished to a trot.
"I'm still in kind of shock that I even got to that ball," Jones said, according to ESPN. "I mean, off the bat I'm just like, 'This ball's hit really far, so just keep going, keep going.' You know this California air's going to slow it down and just never quit. That's just the style I play with. I don't mind running into a wall or two. I just kept going after the ball. I saw the replay after the game. It was a hell of catch."
The USA might be snuffed out by two-time champions Japan in the next round—or the undefeated Puerto Rico in the finals. But Adam Jones gave us something to look out for with Team USA in the WBC future—something rare for the nation that invented the game and boasts supernova talent: watching a good player step up to become a legend.