NEW YORK -- At the Empire State Building to turn on the lights in the colors of the World Baseball Classic, Tommy Lasorda did his best to whip up fervor for the U.S. team.
"We cannot allow those clubs to beat us. It's our game," the former Los Angeles Dodgers manager said Thursday. "Remember one thing: In your hearts, you better pull for the USA or you may not get into heaven."
Lasorda made his pitch from the observation deck of the Empire State Building, which will be bathed in the red, green, blue and yellow colors of the World Baseball Classic. He was vehement about the need for the United States to win the tournament, which opened Thursday with Japan defeating China 4-0 in Tokyo.
"It's our game. Baseball is America's game. It doesn't belong to the Italians or the Cubans or the Koreans or the Japanese," he said. "It's our game, and we're not going to let them beat us."
The 81-year-old Lasorda, who managed the U.S. team to the gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, was unhappy with the U.S. performance at the first World Baseball Classic in 2006. The Americans were eliminated with a 2-1 loss to Mexico in the second round, and Japan went on to beat Cuba 10-6 in the final.
"I'm disappointed that they didn't say to themselves: 'We are the best. Nobody could beat us. This game belongs to us,' " Lasorda said. "When I took the Olympic team to Australia, everybody said to me, 'You've got no chance. Cuba has never, ever lost a tournament.' And I said, 'Did they ever lose a game?' 'Oh, yeah.' 'Then, they're going to lose one here in Australia.' "
Lasorda stressed team and patriotism.
"They played for that 'USA' on the front of their shirt, not for the name on the back of their shirt," he said. "Baseball is America's game. It doesn't belong to these other countries. We've got to best 'em, because they want to beat us bad. They want to beat the United States because they figure, they can beat the United States, that's a big feather in their cap.
"Well, we can't let them put any feathers in their cap. We've got to win this thing. And we've got to bear down and believe and be proud that you're wearing the uniform of their greatest country in the world."