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Mientkiewicz savors Olympic memories

Mientkiewicz savors Olympic memories

MILWAUKEE -- Pirates infielder Doug Mientkiewicz calls his Olympic experience the No. 1 highlight of his baseball career, topping his 2004 World Series title with Boston.

In the 2000 Olympics, he hit two game-winning home runs in seven days against the same country, South Korea. The second was a walk-off that sent the U.S. to the gold medal game. The U.S. stunned Cuba to win the gold behind a complete-game shutout by Ben Sheets, whose Brewers go for a sweep of Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon.

"It's definitely something I'll never forget," Mientkiewicz said. "I don't think I've hit a walk-off since, but if that's the only walk-off I hit for the rest of my life, I think I'll be OK."

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The U.S. failed to qualify for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, but bounced back for bronze in the Beijing Games, which concluded on Sunday. Baseball and softball won't return in 2012 in London and will only reappear for future Olympics if the International Olympic Committee votes either sport back in. Future prospects, both at home and abroad, won't get to experience what Mientkiewicz savored while playing for Tommy LaSorda in Sydney.

"When they brought up the [World Baseball Classic in 2006], I think it ruined everything," Mientkiewicz said. "Us not qualifying in 2004 pretty much killed that. Hopefully, it gets voted back in. For countries like us, it's not a big deal because we have Major League Baseball, we have the WBC. For countries like Cuba, that's all they have. It's going to be tough for those guys;, their main thing is the gold medal in the Olympics every four years. If you take that away from them, it's just not fair."

Mientkiewicz keeps tabs on his teammates from 2000. Some, like Roy Oswalt and Sheets, he sees playing in the big leagues. He e-mails outfielder Mike Neill at least once a week.

"The one thing about that group was you were like brothers, just boys," Mientkiewicz said. "You might not see them for two years, but when you see them for five minutes, you pick up right where you left off."

How special was that team? There's a movie in the works to recreate its magic. It's still a couple years away, but Mientkiewicz has been working as a consultant.

"Basically, they're trying to do 'Miracle,' but on the baseball team," Mientkiewicz said, referencing the film based on the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey squad. "It's exciting to be a major part of it. Hopefully, it'll transform well on screen. When I went through it, it was the most amazing seven weeks of my life."

Nick Zaccardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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