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China loses Olympic baseball debut

Aug. 13, 2008, 3:25 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Manager Jim Lefebvre spent the past five years preparing for China's Olympic baseball debut.

The Chinese lost their opener 10-0 to Canada in eight innings and still found plenty to celebrate on this special day.

"There's a place for baseball in China," Lefebvre said. "They have great athletes. When they go through more experiences like this, you're going to see a rise."

China pulled out all the stops to mark the occasion, complete with elaborate pregame entertainment featuring people in large lion costumes for a traditional performance along each baseline and busy graphics moving across the two outfield scoreboards.

Lefebvre posed for photos on the field before first pitch as music blared from the sound system and the grounds crew completed all the last-minute details. Several of his players leaned on the dugout rail some 30 minutes before the game soaking in the atmosphere on a hazy day in which visibility beyond the outfield seats was poor.

"We're playing at our home and the crowd was going wild," catcher Wang Wei said. "We were a little bit nervous. We've had other international games, but this was the Olympics."

Chinese fans showed up early to pack the stands at Wukesong Stadium to watch the teams warm up, many fanning themselves to stay cool and others waving Chinese flags or clapping together noisemakers. Cameras flashed from the different sections.

They applauded when the announcer hollered, "Let's play ball!" in English. The crowd roared when Chinese starter Bu Tao pitched a 1-2-3 first inning, then chuckled in unison when Canada's Jimmy Vanostrand fouled a ball back and it made a loud noise bouncing off the stadium roof.

Things were much more subdued after Bu surrendered a three-run homer to cleanup hitter Scott Thorman in the top of the fourth to break a scoreless tie.

Yet chants of "China! China!" soon followed - and didn't stop even once the home team was down 10-0 in the eighth. They even clapped on a solo homer by Canada's Mike Saunders.

The players tipped their caps and waved to the cheering fans during pregame introductions, then not one but two ceremonial first pitches were thrown.

"I'm glad it's over," Lefebvre said. "It's been a lot of buildup, five years of buildup to this one day. I'm proud of my team."

This was Canada's lone preliminary game scheduled for the main Olympic field, certainly because the host country was playing.