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Fennelly: Tyler Clippard's Marine Corps salute: a Yankee pitcher's pin of pride

TAMPA — For Yankees relief pitcher and Tampa resident Tyler Clippard, just playing in the World Baseball Classic was a dream come true. Last Wednesday, it got dreamier. Clippard and his teammates became gold medalists. He raced from the bullpen at Dodger Stadium to join the celebratory pile after the United States beat Puerto Rico for its first WBC title.

"That's the unfortunate thing to being a bullpen guy — you're always late to the pile," Clippard said with a grin.

Better late than never.

And better to do it with that Marine Corps eagle, globe and anchor pin, the official emblem of the United States Marine Corps, screwed onto Clippard's uniform belt, as it was throughout the WBC.

There's a story there. An American one.

"My good luck charm," Clippard said.

The two-time All-Star, who attended Mitchell High in New Port Richey, wanted to play in the 2013 WBC but didn't get the call. Clippard, 32, thought he'd never pitch for his country. Then he received a December text from Joe Torre, MLB's chief baseball officer and his first big-league manager, asking if he was interested.

A lot of American stars weren't. Clippard understood. He isn't about to compare winning the WBC to playing in a World Series, which he did with the 2015 Mets. But he wanted this. Joining him were other locals: Rangers pitcher Sam Dyson (Jesuit High), Orioles pitcher Mychal Givens (Plant) and hitting coach Tino Martinez (Tampa Catholic, Jefferson).

"After this whole event has happened, I have a little bit different perspective," Clippard said. "I can't fathom why anyone wouldn't want to do something like this. I'm not going to play for the Ryder Cup. I'm not going to be on an Olympic team. This is all I have. If I got to be 45 and I'd never ever done anything for my country, I would feel a little left out."

And there was that pin on his belt.

Clippard told the story.

"My best friend growing up, since kindergarten, is Bobby Malina. We played Little League together. He spent (three) tours in Iraq as a Marine. He was in Fallujah in 2004. He got blown up a couple of times in his Humvee. Has some hearing loss, but he's okay. The guy served his country. He laid it on the line.

"Another good friend of ours we grew up playing with is (Dunedin High product) Ryan Harvey. He was the sixth overall pick the year I got drafted (in 2003). Ryan's dad, Bill, served in Vietnam. He gave Bobby his pin from when he was a Marine in Vietnam and told Bobby to take it to Iraq and that it would keep him safe."

Malina, who joined the Marines out of high school, kept the pin in the cargo pocket of his camouflage pants during his tours. During his second, Malina suffered a traumatic brain injury but survived two roadside IED explosions in nine days. He battles post-traumatic stress disorder. He's a postal worker and lives in Holiday.

Later, Malina loaned the pin to his brother, Brent, who was in the Navy and deployed in Afghanistan. And when Malina learned that Clippard was going to the WBC, he gave the pin to his pal.

"I was so proud," Clippard "There's no comparison to what Bobby and Ryan's dad did for the country. I just took pride because it's what I have. Being out there for the national anthem, goose bumps every time, and you've got a USA jersey on."

"It just seemed right to give him (the pin)," Malina said. "It brought me luck."

At one point, Clippard's real luck might have been having Adam Jones in centerfield. In the WBC's most memorable play, late in a key win over the Dominican Republic, a Clippard pitch was driven over the fence in San Diego by Dominican star Manny Machado only to be pulled back in by Jones, Machado's Orioles teammate. Spectacular.

Machado tipped his cap toward Jones. Clippard raised his arms. You could read the words out of his mouth.

Oh, my God!

"That was a moment," Clippard said.

Just like that gold medal around his neck.

"I can show it to my kids hopefully," Clippard said.

First things first. Clippard is marrying Brittany Westwood in November.

"On Veterans Day, actually," Bobby Malina said. "Pretty cool."

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

Fennelly: Tyler Clippard's Marine Corps salute: a Yankee pitcher's pin of pride 03/27/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 28, 2017 12:16am]
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