A Missouri native who overcame two skull fractures and agreed to a radical delivery change on his way to the big leagues, Ziegler, now 29, is currently playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, which he calls "a dream come true." After winning two of its three games during pool play in Toronto, where Ziegler appeared in two games and allowed two runs on four hits in 1 1/3 innings, Team USA flew to Miami, where it opens second-round action Saturday against Puerto Rico.
Ziegler, who was dealing with a bout of what he thinks was bronchitis while in Toronto, took some time out of his busy schedule Friday to check in by phone for the latest installment of oaklandathletics.com's weekly feature, "Q's with A's."
MLB.com: How has your experience with Team USA matched up with your expectations before it started?
Ziegler: Going into it, I didn't know what to expect. But I knew I was the youngest on the team in terms of [big league] service time, so I was kind of wondering how I'd be received, but the guys have been really good to me. Everybody here is on a level playing field, and I get the same treatment as everyone else. There are absolutely no politics involved. All they care about is going out and playing hard and representing our country as best we can.
MLB.com: So there's no pecking order, no superstar egos on display?
Ziegler: Not at all. Some guys get more attention from fans and media, but in the clubhouse it doesn't matter who you are. Guys like Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter, they're so easy to talk to. I've gained a lot of respect for the guys on this team. So many guys turned down an opportunity to play for this team, so I think everyone on the team realized right away that everyone here really wants to be here.
MLB.com: The team's chemistry has gotten a lot of attention. Do you guys hang out away from the field?
Ziegler: It's a great chemistry going through the clubhouse. I think everyone gets up in the morning every day really looking forward to going to the park and playing together. Every night, guys are going out together, maybe six or eight in a group. In Toronto, 16 of us went out to a steakhouse. There's something going on with this team. Guys so excited to be here, because if they weren't, they'd be at Spring Training, doing drills, playing in the [exhibition] games. These games mean something, and it's a lot of fun. It's a totally different intensity.
MLB.com: What's been the highlight for you personally?
Ziegler: For me it's just seeing the human side of these guys. You hear about Jeter and Chipper and David Wright, and they get so much attention from the fans and media that in my mind they had an elevated status. I walked into the clubhouse the first day and I'm like, "Oh my gosh, it's Chipper Jones!" And then he comes up and says, "Hey Zig, it's nice to meet you." He treated me like he's known me forever.
MLB.com: Team USA was a disappointment in the 2006 Classic. Do you guys talk about that or feel like you're playing for redemption of some sort?
Ziegler: I haven't heard any talk whatsoever about 2006 within the team, but the media will occasionally ask a question about it to someone who was on that team and this one. It is going to be a disappointment if we don't do better than the 2006 team, so that's kind of hanging over us, but nobody talks about it. We've got the talent to win this tournament, and for us, it's all about winning. You get to the park and you get ready to win. Everyone has a great work ethic, guys are picking other guys' brains, and guys aren't afraid to share what they've learned and what they know.
MLB.com How's your health heading into the second round?
Ziegler: I was a little bit sick when I got to Clearwater [Fla.] for our training camp, and it really hit me in Toronto. I had a real bad cough, and it just zapped my energy for a long time. [Thursday] was the first day I felt back to normal. Some other guys started coming up with the symptoms, and I think I'm responsible for it. I think I brought it with me from Phoenix.
MLB.com: Are you keeping up with what's going on at A's camp?
Ziegler: I haven't really talked to anybody yet, because I didn't take my phone to Toronto. But I follow it on the Internet, trying to stay in the loop. I'm pretty excited about the additions of Nomar Garciaparra and Orlando Cabrera. Everyone here who's played with those guys say nothing but great things about them, so I'm looking forward to meeting and playing with them.
MLB.com: It doesn't seem like there were any clearly defined roles in the bullpen during the first round, and you've only pitched 1 1/3 innings. Are you concerned about this affecting your preparation for the regular season?
Ziegler: I tried to get game-ready before I came here, so at this point it's kind of like the regular season for me. The first two games we were scheduled in terms of what inning we'd pitch and how long, but now you just have to be ready to go at any point. The starters' pitch counts are going up to 85 for the second round, so the coaches might just play it like a regular game and play matchups, so I don't know how much I'll pitch. But even if we go to the finals, I'll still have eight or nine days with Oakland to get ready. I think I'll be fine.
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less