08/15/2012 10:48 AM ET
Michael Saunders: Olympic memories
Outfielder recounts his time at the 2008 Olympic Games
In 2008, I had the opportunity to represent my country during the Olympic Games in Beijing. It was a really special experience.
As a Canadian, most of my Olympic memories as a kid came from the Winter Olympics. As a country, Canada is pretty strong in the Winter Games and in hockey, in particular. I used to play hockey before I chose baseball. I watched a lot of Olympic hockey, but I never even dreamed of playing baseball in the Olympics back then.
Canada is pretty synonymous with hockey, but a lot of countries -- including the United States -- are right there with Canada, Sweden and Russia. During the Olympic Games, they all use their NHL players, and not only is it great competition, but it is an opportunity for those guys to represent their countries, as well.
Having the opportunity to do that myself, I know how special that is. At the time, I was playing in Triple-A. I, of course, would have loved to have been in the Major Leagues then, but at that time, I was in the Minor Leagues, and the Mariners allowed me to participate in the Olympics. For that, I am very thankful to them.
I was going to have shoulder surgery on my labrum, and I had to sort of plead with them to let me go to this last tournament. They were very supportive and understanding. I had the surgery afterward and that actually cost me an extra month in 2009 as I rehabbed. They could have very easily allowed me not to participate, but they supported me.
That summer I left for Raleigh, N.C., where the U.S. team trains. It was about mid-August, and we had a five-game exhibition series against the U.S. club.
Once we got to Beijing, we got to see some other events, as well. Each athlete filled out a sheet on which he got to list three other events or games he would like to see. I listed the men's 100 meters for all three of my choices, and I guess they got the hint as I got a ticket for that race. I actually sat near the finish line with a couple of buddies and saw Usain Bolt break the record as he won the gold medal. He did his little bow-and-arrow celebration, too, and that was pretty cool.
Between that and the opening ceremonies, those were some of my favorite highlights, as was the Olympic Village. That place was amazing. There you were surrounded by the greatest athletes in the world, and the funny thing is they have all this great food there and one McDonald's. The only guys who ate there were us, the baseball players, and as we sat there, we were getting mean-mugged by a lot of athletes who had trained incredibly hard for four years. But as the Games continued and more and more athletes were finishing up, the line at McDonald's started to get a little bit longer.
On the field, we kind of had some tough luck. We finished fifth or sixth. We won the first two games against China and the Netherlands. Then we had Cuba, and we lost a lead late, and the same thing happened against the U.S. We also lost to the eventual gold-medal champions -- South Korea, 1-0 -- in a nine-inning game. It could have been very different. I wish I could have hung a medal on my wall, but we were in every game. It was fun and both heartbreaking and emotionally draining at the same time.
It is too bad that baseball is no longer part of the Summer Olympics. We are the only sport that is in full swing by then, so it is difficult. But with the World Baseball Classic, we have a good outlet again when it comes to international competition.
Mariners center fielder Michael Saunders is from Victoria, British Columbia. This is his fourth big league season, and he has played in a career-high 108 games. He has hit a personal-best 10 homers and has 15 stolen bases.