Pictured left to right is Justin Wurtz and Tyler Johnson.
--When you take three letters and combine them on the front of a jersey, everyone forgets about their differences and unites as one team with the same goal.
When Justin Wurtz of Hermann, Mo. and Tyler Johnson of Union, Mo. first put on their jersey with the letters “USA” on the front they realized they were no longer playing for their high schools (Hermann Bearcats or Union Wildcats) instead they were representing an entire nation.
At the beginning of November, Johnson and Wurtz were two of 17 players who represented the USA at the Junior Men’s World Championship (JMWC) in Argentina, competing against 13 countries in fast pitch softball.
The JMWC, hosted by the International Softball Federation, is held every two years where the top junior fast pitch softball players across the world come together, representing their country in hopes of winning a World Championship.
Wurtz said, “It may not have been the Olympics to others…for us 17 guys it was our Olympics, going out and trying to represent USA the best we could and relishing in that moment, competing against 13 other countries.”
Wurtz and Johnson were both excited to be playing in the World Championship but never could have imagined it would end up being the greatest experience of their life.
Pictured: Justin Wurtz rounds third.
Fast pitch is a very popular sport in Argentina and young kids view softball in a similar way Americans view baseball.
Johnson said, “I was thankful to have the opportunity to compete against other nations, especially because I made a lot of friends with other nations…after a game it was pretty cool because all the little kids wanted our autographs and pictures…it was an unbelievable feeling. They treated us like we were in the major leagues.”
Wurtz said, “I think I underestimated how much of an achievement this was…people have come up to me saying how cool it was that I played in Argentina. I was surprised how many people even knew about it.”
Johnson and Wurtz both said that playing against Argentina in front of eight thousand fans rooting against them was the most memorable game they played. “We lost the game…it was a great game to the end…we had the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning…it was so loud I could barely talk to my third baseman. I felt like I was playing at Busch Stadium in the bottom of the 9th of game 7 of the World Series” said, Wurtz.
Tyler told us some of the memorable moments he’ll never forget.
“One of the first things I noticed was the Jumbotron and how nice all the fans were. They cheered for everyone, except when we played Argentina, but even when we lost they still cheered for us.”
Pictured is Tyler Johnson.
“Argentina will always be where I hit my first home run.”
The USA team finished second in their pool and fifth in the world. After losing to Argentina, USA came up short losing to Canada 4-2, finishing with a record of 5-3.
Argentina went on and won their first ever World Championship by defeating Japan 5-0.
It’s impossible for anyone to know the feeling of doing something unless they have done it themselves. Tyler and Justin share something no one can ever take away from them and a bond that can never be broken.
Justin described their experience as close as possible the feeling of playing for the USA in the Olympics.
“Representing your country is different…growing up and playing sports…coaches and leaders of a team always stressed that you’re playing for the name on the front of the jersey and not on the back. There were a lot more people we represented with USA on the front of our jersey instead of our home baseball teams.”
“It made me very proud to be able to accomplish this once in my life…to say I was an athlete of the United States. It’s probably one of the greatest experiences I’ll ever have in my lifetime and I don’t even realize it yet.”