Mister-Baseball.com is counting down with short team-by-team previews until the World Baseball Classic starts on March 5th.
We are going to start into our preview series for the World Baseball Classic with the biggest underdog in the whole tournament. Team China, managed by Terry Collins, lacks any Major League stars and has to take on the 2006 World Baseball Classic champion and the 2008 Olympic champion in the preliminary round.
China is slotted into pool A of the World Baseball Classic and opens the tournament on Thursday, March 5th against the defending champion Japan. They are playing in the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan. Due to the double elimination format they are probably facing Taiwan in their second and perhaps last game in the WBC on Saturday, March 7th. Olympic champion South Korea also is in this group.
Recent Tournament History
In the 2006 edition of the World Baseball Classic, China lost all three games in a round robin preliminary round against Korea, Japan and Taiwan by a combined score of 6-40. They allowed 14.40 runs per nine innings in these matches and they batted just .185.
The following year they would have had the opportunity to play in the IBAF Baseball World Cup in Taiwan, but they passed and gave away their spot to Thailand. Last summer China participated in the Olympics in Beijing, finishing in eighth place with a 1-6 record. Probably profiting from the extra inning tiebreaker rule, they upset Taiwan in an 8-7 twelve-inning victory. They impressed not only in this game, but during the whole event, as they showed a fighting spirit in every game, sometimes too aggressive, which led to a near-brawl in the match versus Team USA.
China was ranked 14th in the IBAF World Rankings.
Friday, February 27th:
China – Yomiuri Giants
Saturday, February 28th:
China – Saitama Seibu Lions
(both games are in Japan)
The Chinese Baseball program started from the scratch following the inaugural version of the World Baseball Classic in 2006, focusing on Beijing 2008. With the help of Major League Baseball Chinese teams and players were brought into the United States to play in extended Spring Training and the Arizona Fall League the past few years. This helped to improve their skills. However now they have to proof that they are willing to continue the development of Baseball.
Chao Wang, who now is an outfielder, was the first player from China to sign with a Major League team back in 2001, when he played in the Arizona Summer League for the Seattle Mariners affiliate. Currently pitcher Liu Kai, catcher Zhenwang Zhang (both New York Yankees) and infielder Ray Chang (Pittsburgh Pirates) are Chinese players in Major League organizations. The others are all playing in their home country in the China Baseball League.
In the Olympics last August right-handed starting pitcher Chenhao Li made a solid impression on the mound, allowing just two runs on seven hits in ten innings. Infielder Fenglian Hou and outfielder Lingfeng Sun led the team with eight hits each. All three are again on the roster of China in the WBC.
Jim Lefebvre, who was at the top of the coaching staff of China the past few years, leaves his position to take over as hitting coach of the San Diego Padres. Terry Collins replaces him at the helm for the 2009 WBC. Collins, who served as the farm director of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2007, last managed in the big leagues in 1999, when he was with the Angels. He also was the skipper of the Houston Astros. In these stints he has a 444-434 record as manager in the MLB. In 2008 he served as manager of the Japanese professional team Orix Buffaloes.
Despite their courage-filled play in the Olympics, the Chinese team does not have a chance to advance in pool A of the World Baseball Classic. The tournament probably will be over after game two, likely against Taiwan. In Beijing they had the crowd behind their backs and they were highly motivated to excel in their home country. This will be different in Tokyo.
Photo: (c) MARCO VASINI, IBAF, www.ibaf.org