MINNEAPOLIS — Tucked away in Brian Duensing’s closet is a wardrobe of clothing he’ll never wear again, everything from shoes to jackets, shirts and pants. He hasn’t put any of it on since 2008, but he can’t bring himself to get rid of it.
The wardrobe isn’t his style, Duensing said, but it’s special none the less. It’s his Olympic wardrobe from Beijing in 2008, a tangible reminder that he was part of the last baseball team the United States might ever field in the Olympic Games.
The International Olympic Committee voted in 2005 to drop baseball and softball from the Summer Games beginning in 2012. They were the first sports cut in 69 years, and when the Olympians lined up in London on Friday night, the United States’ group was without its normal cadre of minor league stars. It’s a change, for sure, and a disappointment for the best young prospects, but for Duensing, being a part of that last team makes the memories all the more special.
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“Unfortunately for baseball, it’ll probably never happen again,” Duensing said. “To be there in the last one was exciting.”
The Twins pitcher got a chance to watch the opening ceremonies on Friday night, and they reminded him of all the memories from Beijing. He said he didn’t actually get a good sense of the entire production that night in 2008; athletes were cooped up in a gymnasium before they walked in the ceremonies. The theatrics of the arena were on television, but they were interrupted continually by announcements to line up, making for a memorable, if disjointed, experience.
“I watched the opening ceremony last night and started feeling jealous of the athletes out there because I know exactly what was going through their head and how they’re feeling,” Duensing said. “It’s a very special moment to be able to do it.”
Duensing made one appearance in the Olympics, pitching 3.1 scoreless innings in relief on Aug. 16, 2008 against Canada. He earned the win, and the United States went on to receive the bronze medal.
Even that was something of a disappointment for Duensing and his teammates. They’d qualified for the Olympics two years earlier, before Duensing played on the national team, and in his national team debut in 2007 they won the 2007 Baseball World Cup. The team’s roster boasted players like Nate Schierholtz , Stephen Strasburg, Jayson Nix, Trevor Cahill, Lou Marson and Jake Arrieta who have since seen consistent time playing in the major leagues; it was enough promise to think realistically about gold. But the team lost two of its first three games — to South Korea and Cuba — before it went on to win out and earn the bronze medal.
“We came up short,” Duensing said. “We had really good arms, unbelievable offense. We just couldn’t put it all together when we needed to early.”
The two teams that beat the United States went on to win gold (South Korea) and silver (Cuba), and no matter the disappointment, Duensing admitted that the Olympics are an experience that’s hard to put into words.
“It’s pretty neat,” Duensing said. “I remember getting chills when we got on the podium even though it was a bronze medal. To get the medal and to know it was actually happening, it took a while to sink in. But at that moment I got chills. It’s hard to describe. But it’s just something that I wish everyone could feel once.”
Now, four years later, Duensing keeps his medal in a safety deposit box. It’s more the subject of jokes than something he thinks about regularly — he joked about wearing it through security in an airport and leaving it around his house for guests to see — but it’s still a point of pride.
After the games, Duensing was given a DVD of those opening ceremonies that he only partially saw. He hasn’t even watched it yet, he admitted, and it’s likely relegated to a hiding spot similar to those piles of clothing.
It isn’t that Duensing doesn’t care. It isn’t that he’s not proud. But it’s been four years. The minor leaguer has made his debut for the Twins and earned a stable spot on their roster. He’s started games. He’s struck out batters. That’s Duensing’s focus now, and as the games go on in London this summer, he can enjoy being a fan.