Courtesy of USA BaseballCole Tucker couldn't help himself; not with his personality.
Mountain Pointe's Cole Tucker (back row, right) raises his fingers in celebration after helping lead the USA 18U baseball team to a gold medal in Taiwan.
The Mountain Pointe (Phoenix) senior was halfway across the world, hanging out with ballplayers his age from just about every baseball-playing country there is, and he was making as many connections as he could.
The gold medal he returned with after a month-long stay in Taiwan in which he helped the USA 18U squad win the IBAF World Cup title is on the mantle (next to his little brother's) in his family home. But the thing he will cherish most is the interaction with the players from other teams.
"I actually befriended a lot of people from Valenzuela, Colombia and other Latin countries because I could speak Spanish," he said. "This was such a crazy life-changing experience, especially with us being together for such a short time, it was good to step outside of my comfort zone and get a chance to meet new people from different cultures."
One of the coolest traditions at international events like this is the trading of personal items once the event is over. Tucker came away with a Chinese Taipei glove, a jersey from Korea and full uniform from Cuba.
Courtesy of USA Baseball
Cole Tucker makes the tag at second base.
"We were all in the hotel lobby and it was trade fest," said Tucker, who started eight of the nine World Cup games at shortstop and made one error in 43 total chances. "It was loud and crazy. That's what I will take away from it the most. Here were all of these kids from different cultures with the common goal of beating each other, but when it was over we were all together trying to make deals with each other for the best item."
Some will argue nothing is more valuable than the gold medal the USA earned after going 10-2-1 overall and 8-1 in World Cup action, including a 3-2 win over Japan in the championship game.
With a team of talented stars from around the country, ego can be a roadblock to the type of play needed to be successful.
The USA coaching staff made sure to squash it before it could be a problem.
"The night before we left the coaches had a meeting," said Tucker, who is committed to Arizona. "They said we were all great players, we were going to play at the next level. We all have scholarships and will get a chance to play pro ball, but none of that matters the next few weeks.
"This trip was about selflessness and playing as one. We bought into it. No one was playing for personal ambitions. We were all playing for the team, and as long as we got the win at the end of the day that is all that mattered."
Manager Ron Cooper, who guided USA to its second straight title after not winning one since 1999, couldn't have been more pleased.
Courtesy of USA Baseball
Cole Tucker celebrates with his teammates.
"I'm not sure I can totally describe this feeling," 18U National Team manager Rob Cooper said after the game. "What I do want to say is how proud I am to be associated with these 20 young men, what they've gone through, how they came together and how they stayed together. In this tournament, you saw 20 guys come together for something far more important than themselves and play for the letters on their chest."
Tucker had much to do with the win, as he broke up the no-hit bid by Japan southpaw Yuki Matsui, who has become a national treasure, with a single in the fifth and came around to score on a fielder's choice to tie the game at 1-1 and ignite the U.S. offense.
"I hadn't swung the bat well, but came through in a big situation," said Tucker, who hit .214 (6-for-28) with five runs and four RBIs in World Cup action. "It felt great to contribute and get things going. It's something I will never forget."
Especially when he looks at his family mantle and sees both gold medals, where the one earned by his 12-year-old brother, Carson, for winning the 12U World Cup title, also sits.
"It was awesome to put mine next to his," Cole said. "It was kind of weird because everything we have ever done together in baseball I've always done it first. Now, I am following in my little brother's footsteps. Instead of me helping and guiding him, he showed me how to do it. It was cool.
"I don't know of many brothers who can both say that they won gold medals and that's something we will always share."
Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothills News staff writer, is a 19-year sports writing veteran. Follow on Twitter @JSkodaAFN and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.