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Greek baseball team, made in the USA

As the Games' host, Greece can field a team in any sport without qualifying. But where to find a cleanup hitter?

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Mention "Homer" to a Greek, and he thinks Odysseus, not Hank Aaron.

But the Greek national baseball team, conjured up from scratch for this year's Olympic Games, hopes to change all that. Success at the games, officials say, would boost the popularity of a sport almost as unfamiliar to modern Greeks as it was to the Ancients.

Not that many of the players on the Greek team are what you would normally call Greek. In fact only one member of the 24-man squad actually has a Greek parent and lives in Greece (and he is called Chris Robinson, thanks to his American dad).

But when Greece won its Olympic bid in 1997, and with it the right to field teams in every sport without qualifying, Panos Mitsiopoulos decided that "now was the time for people here to love baseball." And thereby hangs a tale.

Mr. Mitsiopoulos had become a baseball fan on a trip to America. In his homeland, however, the only sign of the game in those days was a weed-choked diamond on an abandoned US Air Force base outside Athens. Undeterred, Mitsiopoulos and some like-minded friends founded the Hellenic Amateur Baseball Federation, registered it with the authorities, and called the US ambassador for help.

They were in luck. The ambassador at the time, Nicholas Burns, describes himself as "a confirmed, unconditional, rabid fan of the Boston Red Sox," and he was delighted to join in the fun. He roped in Peter Angelos, the Greek-American owner of the Baltimore Orioles, and also rallied Major League Baseball's International Division to the cause.

Introducing baseball to Greece, recalls Mr. Burns (now US ambassador to NATO), "was a joint venture between America and Greece, and it was one of the best things I ever did as ambassador."


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