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Chasing the dream, Lefebvre’s way

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Baseball may still be a developing sport in China, but one member of that country’s Olympic team has already secured his place in the sport’s lore.

Two years ago, in the inaugural World Baseball Classic, catcher Wei Wang hit a two-run home run in the fourth inning of China’s opening-round loss to Japan, making him the first player to homer in WBC history.

“A hundred years from now when the World Baseball Classic is a very popular event, they’ll say who was the first,” said China’s manager, Jim Lefebvre, a former National League Rookie of the Year with the Dodgers. “And he’s from China.”

The starting catcher for the Chinese national team since 2002, the 29-year-old Wang is bidding to become the first player from the mainland to play in the majors. He signed a free-agent contract with the Seattle Mariners last season but has been given permission to spend this summer with the Chinese Olympic team.

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China was outscored 40-6 in losing all three of its games to professionals from Japan, Korea and Taiwan in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. But Lefebvre, who has been directing the Chinese baseball program for five years, said with the Beijing Games drawing near, his team has improved tremendously, winning 17 of 24 games against minor league teams during a two-month training camp in Arizona.

“Suddenly they got it,” he said of his players. “For five years, the Olympics were just kind of a dream. It was a picture out there somewhere. They never really could see it. But now they see the finish line. It’s right in front of them. And that’s what really kind of turned them on. I’ve been really, really pleased with the way we’ve been playing lately.”

-- Kevin Baxter


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