By John Manuel
August 4, 2004
BALTIMORE–Using 10-man lineups and a pair of retired starting pitchers, the Olympic baseball teams for Greece and Canada gave about 200 fans at Camden Yards a sneak preview of this month’s Olympic tournament in Athens.
The Greek team, composed of Americans of Greek descent, scored three runs in the first off former big league lefty Paul Spoljaric, but Canada rallied against Orioles prospect Nick Markakis and went on to a 5-3 victory.
Markakis, the seventh overall pick in the 2003 draft, has played outfield for low Class A Delmarva this season and had not pitched in a game since his days at Young Harris (Ga.) Junior College. He will pitch in a relief role for Greece in the Olympics and threw an inning against Canada, giving up three runs on three hits and three walks. Markakis got the loss as he threw 31 pitches, 14 of them out of the strike zone.
Canada had 22 of the players on its final 24-man roster on hand, with Expos righthander Shawn Hill on his way. The only question remaining regards Rockies lefthander Jeff Francis, whose Olympic availability remained uncertain, according to Team Canada national team director Greg Hamilton.
“This right here is what I’ve been working toward–a lot of us have,” said Canada third baseman Todd Betts, who has played this season in the Yankees system. “There are the major leagues, but I realize baseball’s a business. My whole preparation has been getting ready for this summer and the Olympics, especially after the qualifier (last November).”
Greece scored three runs in the first inning with five straight hits to start the game off Spoljaric. The Greek roster had several additions from the preliminary roster, including Tigers outfielder Derek Nicholson, who has split time between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo this season. He had one of the five hits in the first, and Greece had nine hits overall–two by Athletics farmhand Vasili Spanos, who had an RBI double in the first inning.
“I can’t wait to go,” Spanos said. “The Olympics are the biggest stage we could be on right now. It can’t hurt to play on a stage like that. It’s going to be better competition than what I’ve faced, but it’s still baseball. They might throw a little harder, they might not. Their sliders might be dirtier, but they might not. I’m just telling myself to react to the ball and not the hype.”
The hype ends and the Games begin on Aug. 15 in Athens. Greece was leaving this afternoon for a flight to Greece, while Canada leaves tomorrow for three exhibition games in Italy.