- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2013

MIAMI — It was just before 5 p.m. Tuesday evening when Ross Detwiler ambled onto the field at Marlins Park. The colors he was wearing were familiar, the hues not so different from that of the Washington Nationals uniform he puts on daily from February through October.

But the meaning of the “USA” stitched across his chest was not lost on him.

“It’s been incredible,” he said, a green rubber bracelet on his wrist displaying support for U.S. troops. “It’s a dream come true to play for your country.”

The text messages from his American Nationals’ teammates had been coming in fast and furious the past four days, especially from right-hander Craig Stammen, who’d joined Detwiler on a USO Tour this winter.

Detwiler turned in a superb four-inning relief outing Saturday night to help Team USA beat Italy in the first round of the World Baseball Classic. Gio Gonzalez joined him on Team USA on Monday.

And as Detwiler shagged fly balls in the outfield Tuesday evening, Gonzalez was in the bowels of Marlins Park preparing to start for Team USA against Puerto Rico in their second-round opener.

“I kind of fought off the emotions until the end [of my outing],” Detwiler said. “You’re out there for another team trying to compete. But at the end, you look up and you let it hit you and it’s like, ‘We were just competing against another nation.’ It’s pretty cool.”

When Joe Torre sent word that he’d like the left-hander to be a part of his team earlier this spring, Detwiler, who pitched for Team USA as a college student in 2006, hardly hesitated before he agreed.

The debate, of course, is how much this tournament means, particularly to Americans, with many of the biggest-name players declining to participate and choosing instead to focus on preparing for the long MLB season ahead.

Detwiler scoffed at the notion that these games are taken lightly. On Sunday afternoon, as the U.S. rallied to beat Canada in a winner-take-all game to advance to the second round, Detwiler said “it was like a playoff game for me,” watching from the dugout.

“Look at Mexico and Canada,” he said, referencing the brawl that broke out between the two teams Saturday. “You can’t tell me they didn’t take it seriously. Everybody’s taking it seriously. Everybody’s out here to win. Nobody’s out here just to show up.

“There’s a lot of pride at stake. You want to be able to go back to your team there and say you won it.”

The ball from Team USA’s first win, secured when the Nationals’ lanky lefty tossed a soft ground ball to first base for the final out, was stored safely away.

Detwiler had it authenticated and plans to take it home to Missouri.

He felt like he’d been away from Nationals camp for weeks, even though it’d been just nine days, and was happy to have his family, including his wife, Keri, join him in Miami.

“I’m trying to keep up with [the Nationals] through the media and everything,” he said, “but it’s not the same as being there. It’s kind of hard to cheer on your teammates from a computer screen.”

Detwiler wasn’t sure when his next appearance in the tournament would come, though he’s lined up to be on regular rest Thursday, and he was happy with the work he got in Saturday — throwing 36 of 51 pitches for strikes and allowing just one hit in four innings.

“Your two-seamer was looking really good,” Gonzalez told him when he joined the team Monday, and Detwiler said the presence of his Nationals teammate “relaxes him.”

He didn’t look like he needed much help feeling relaxed Tuesday, though, at ease and at home in his country’s uniform, and Torre left the door open for Detwiler to possibly start a game in his next appearance, instead of piggy-backing one of the other starters.

“I’ve been trying to compete for a job for the past like, 43 years, so I had to come [into spring training] ready,” Detwiler joked. “I think that helped me out a lot this year. I’m not just coming in to get ready for the season. I’ve got to be ready for, three weeks in, we’re going out and playing games that actually matter.”

“It’s just really special,” he added. “It’s kind of hard to put it into words.”

• Amanda Comak can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com.

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