John Gall's dream remains getting back to the big leagues – and sticking there. But playing in the minors this year has allowed the St. Francis High graduate to pursue another dream: an Olympic gold medal.
Gall will represent the United States in baseball this month at the Olympic Games in Beijing.
"It's definitely a thrill," Gall said of being chosen for Team USA, comprised of 23 minor leaguers and one college player. "It's strange how it came about, but I'm as happy as anyone to be here."
After learning in May that he was on a list of 60 finalists for a team that precluded selecting major leaguers, Gall said he had no idea he would make it until the day before the roster was announced July 16.
"I got a phone call on the way to the Triple A all-star game – I was on the plane," said Gall, a first baseman/outfielder for the Albuquerque Isotopes, an affiliate of the Florida Marlins. "It was an exciting phone call to get."
Bob Watson, in charge of selecting the squad as USA Baseball General Manager of Professional Baseball Operations, recently said he sought experienced players. At 30, Gall is the fourth-oldest member of the team and one of 14 Triple-A players on board. Gall has been playing professionally since 2000, the year the St. Louis Cardinals drafted him out of Stanford University in the 11th round.
The Cardinals called up Gall to the majors twice – the first time in 2005 when he made the playoff roster – before releasing him midway through the 2006 season. He finished the year with the Lotte Giants of the Korean Baseball League. Gall returned stateside the next season, signing with the Marlins organization.
Gall's second season with the Isotopes is shaping up to be his best. He made the midseason Pacific Coast League All-Star Team by batting .319 with 12 home runs, 27 doubles and 72 RBIs.
"It's been a good year," Gall said. "I think it was a factor (in being selected for Team USA)."
Although Gall's selection hurts his chances of returning to the big leagues this year, he has no regrets about going to Beijing.
"I'm giving that up, but it's a fairly easy decision," said Gall, who played three games with the Marlins last season. "The Olympics are a one-time deal."
And Gall would like nothing better than to seal the deal with a gold medal. But it won't be easy. Although baseball is billed as the national pastime, Team USA is not favored to win the gold. Like other sports invented here, the rest of the world is figuring out how to play baseball at a high level.
"We're not the favorites and we know that, but we've got a shot," said Gall, a 1996 graduate of St. Francis. "We should be in the hunt. Cuba is an international powerhouse and so is Japan, and we may have less experience, but we'll compete for sure."
After his first workout with Team USA, which came last week at Santa Clara University, Gall called the collection of players "one of the most talented teams I've been on." The squad – guided by World Series-winning manager Davey Johnson – includes outfielder Matt LaPorta (a top prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization) and pitcher Stephen Strasburg (a potential No. 1 pick from San Diego State).
Gall said his teammates "are really positive" and he doesn't expect them to be consumed by how many innings they will log or which role they will play.
"We don't know what it is or care – we just want to win," the Portola Valley native said. "We get to take the professional nature of baseball out of it and simplify it down to winning."
Gall's family won't be joining him in Beijing, but they will be watching on TV.
"Definitely," said his wife Megan Gall (nee Jones), who grew up in Los Altos Hills and met John at St. Francis. "We're so excited."
The Galls have a son, Drew, born seven months ago. They live in Albuquerque during the season and make their home in Millbrae the rest of the year. One of the Galls' Bay Area neighbors is an Olympian as well.
"The funny thing is that we live in a cul-de-sac and the girl across the street did the javelin in 1996 in Atlanta," Megan said, referring to Nicole Lewis (nee Carroll). "What are the odds of that?"
Now John hopes to bring home a medal, something that eluded his neighbor. He said the gold would rank right up there with his other career highlights, which include playing in the College World Series, getting his first major league at-bat and batting in the 2005 playoffs.
But win or lose, medal or no medal, Gall expects the Olympic experience to be a memorable one.
"Just the opening ceremonies will be pretty cool," he said. "I can't wait."
Team USA's opening game is scheduled Aug. 13 against Korea.