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COURTESY USA BASEBALL
Players and coaches for the U.S. National 18U team celebrate on the field after winning the gold medal at the World Baseball Cup in Japan.

Pratto, Danner savor their gold-medal adventure

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Huntington Beach baseball players Nick Pratto and Hagen Danner have had their fair share of fun moments during their playing careers.

The latest chapter was played out in Japan over the summer, where the juniors represented the United States in the WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup.

Both played pivotal roles, and the United States defeated Japan, 2-1, to win the gold medal in front of 15,000 fans Sunday night at Hanshin Koshien Stadium in Osaka.

Pratto started and picked up the victory in the gold-medal game. He was 2-0 in his two starts in the tournament, posting a 1.26 ERA with one complete game and 17 strikeouts in 141/3 innings. He was named the tournament MVP.

“It’s a little different than playing at home,” Pratto said of playing for the U.S. team. “You have to live up to what is expected.

“I like that people expect a lot out of me. It pushes me to want to do more.”

Pratto said playing for Team USA is a unique experience because the players knew they had a target on their backs. Danner agreed, mentioning that each country they faced threw their ace against them.

“When we were walking out of the hotel, you could see all the other countries looking at you like they know that we have a chance to win the whole tournament,” Danner said. “We have to go out and prove that America is the best country. It’s our pastime.”

Living up to expectations, the United States went 8-1 en route to its third straight championship at the tournament.

Danner’s defining moment of the competition came in a game against South Korea. He doubled in front of Blake Rutherford, and the Chaminade of West Hills senior homered to give the U.S. the lead in the last inning.

This is not the first time Pratto and Danner have shared something special on the national stage. Both played for the Ocean View Little League team that won the Little League World Series in 2011.

Asked to compare the two experiences, the players referred to the World Cup as “more of a business trip,” and the crowds were vastly different in their minds.

Danner recalls the Little World Series as a bigger event due to it being shown on TV. The crowds exceeded 30,000, and it was bedlam when the Ocean View team faced the Pennsylvania-based team in Williamsport.

In contrast, they said, the Japanese crowd seemed to appreciate good baseball, no matter what jersey the players were wearing.

“They were rooting for us,” Danner said. “They like the U.S. They know that most of them (the players) are good and they’ll be playing in the major leagues. It’s what they want to see.

“When one of their players makes it to the major leagues, they are praised like they are a god of baseball there. Like Ichiro, he’s a god there.”

Pratto transferred to Huntington Beach from Mater Dei this summer, reuniting him with his childhood teammate.

“I’ve played with Hagen my whole life through travel ball and Little League,” Pratto said. “It’s going to be fun playing with him in high school.”

As for winning the gold together?

“It’s awesome to do another thing like that with him, winning a world championship,” Pratto added. “You don’t get too many chances to do that.”


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