Following the 2011 season, many Twins minor leaguers played for various fall and winter league teams. Two pitchers, however, were chosen to play for their national teams and they were rewarded with gold medals. Tom Stuifbergen, who made his Wings debut with a win last season on August 26, won the gold medal in the Baseball World Cup for the Netherlands; while Andrew Albers came away from the Cup with a bronze medal, only to go on to win gold in the Pan American Games for Canada.
The World Cup started immediately following the end of the regular season on October 1 in Panama. The sixteen competing countries were split into two round robin groups for Round 1. The Netherlands and Canada finished tied for first place in Group 1 with a 6-1 record. The Netherlands only loss came in a 5-4 eleven-inning game to Canada. The Netherlands went on to win each of their next five games, including the final against Cuba, earning the country their first World Cup title. Canada went 2-2 in their final four games, earning them a berth in the bronze medal game against the United States. A rainout gave the medal to Canada because they had won the Round 1 game between the two teams.
According to Stuifbergen, “In a World Cup you have to be sharp every game, every inning and every pitch,” and both he and Albers pitched up to the standard. Over three games (two games started) and 17 innings, Stuifbergen did not allow a run to score with just 12 hits, two walks, and eight strikeouts, earning two wins and a save. Albers also held his opponents scoreless in 15 innings over four games (two games started) with just seven hits and three walks, earning two wins.
For Team Netherlands, the gold in the World Cup meant a lot for both the team and the sport of baseball. Stuifbergen said, “It was amazing to be part of this great group of guys. We really worked for it and deserved the Gold. We all pulled for each other and became a real team in those three weeks. To be part of the Dutch Team in 2011 was unbelievable. We had so much attention from the media in The Netherlands for such a small sport. We also got knighted by The Netherlands which is a great honor.”
Following the World Cup, Canada competed in the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. This tournament consisted of only eight teams from North and South America. Canada went into the tournament feeling confident they could succeed. “ Certainly the finish in the World Cup gave us a lot of confidence going into the Pan Am games,” said Albers.
Team Canada came out of the round to compete against Mexico in the semifinals. The Canadians’ 5-3 victory put them in the final against the United States. Having already beaten the US just weeks earlier at the World Cup, Team Canada felt confident, and Albers was given the nod to start the final game.
Said Albers of the opportunity, “ Getting the opportunity to pitch in the gold medal final was the opportunity of a lifetime for me. I was very excited that the coaches had enough confidence in me to give me the ball to start what was one of the biggest games in international competition for Team Canada.”
And Albers didn’t disappoint. He pitched a stellar 6 2/3 innings, allowing the only run Team USA would get. “I was able to go out and execute a good game plan and gave my team a chance to win,” said Albers. The Canadian offense came through, scoring two runs in the top of the sixth, giving them the 2-1 win and Canada’s first gold in any international tournament.
Stuifbergen and Albers joined recent Wings Trevor Plouffe (2009 World Cup) and Brian Duensing (2007 World Cup) as gold medal winners for their respective countries.