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It's Honkbal Heaven (for some)

It's my favourite team sport at the Olympics and it's being tossed out for 2012. The baseball (or as they call it in the Netherlands, honkbal) competition began on Wednesday. Australia failed to qualify for the tournament, as therefore there is next to zero chance of any coverage on Channel Seven. Even SBS gives us some vague promises of no more than an hour's coverage on each of Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd, semis and finals days respectively.

Cuba are my pre-tournament pick for the gold, with Japan for silver and South Korea for bronze. Also appearing: China, Taiwan, Netherlands, Canada and that place just south of Canada.

Good to see Stubby Clapp back on deck for the Canadians. The legendary number 10 for the Memphis Redbirds (indeed they retired his number last year) came out of retirement for the Beijing Olympics.

The Richmond Braves' Scott Thorman hit the first home run of Beijing 2008 in Canada's mercy-shortened 10-0 drubbing on the home side. Taiwan beat the Netherlands 5-0 despite third baseman Chiang Tai-Shan being banned on the eve of the tournament for testing positive. South Korea tipped out the US 8-7, while Cuba beat Japan 4-2 in what could be a preview of the final.

Here's the Olympic News Service summary of Honkbal Day One:

(BEIJNG, August 13) -- An outstanding pitching performance from starter Chen Wei-Yin helped Chinese Taipei to a first-up 5-0 win over the Netherlands in front of some strong vocal support at Wukesong Baseball Field on Wednesday.

Chen pitched a stellar seven shut-out innings, striking out seven, giving up just three hits and no walks to totally dominate the Dutch hitting line-up, before being replaced by Cheng Kai-wen, who took care of the final two innings.

China's Olympic Baseball debut ended in an error-ridden defeat as Canada took a 10-0 win, called after eight innings by the mercy rule.

China's demise began with relief pitcher Liu Kai, who entered the game in the top of the fifth inning and walked four hitters. He hit Scott Thorman with a pitch and also walked a runner with the bases loaded.

Canada's first baseman Thorman opened the scoring with a three-run home run in the top of the fourth inning. He brought in Stubby Clapp and Michael Saunders who hit a single each.

Canada's starter Chris Begg pitched seven innings with nine strike-outs. Chen Wei-Yin took a tough loss with seven hits in seven innings and no walks.

"This was China's first real international game, and there have to be a lot of guys who were really antsy. We have a lot of experience in international baseball and we came here with one mission in mind - to expose any team we play," said Terry Puhl, Canada's manager, on China's performance.

Chinese team manager Jim Lefebvre addressed neophyte China's approach to the grand old game, "The beautiful thing about baseball is you get to play everyday."

The Republic of Korea beat the United States 8-7 in a nail-biter in the Baseball competition on Day One.

The Republic of Korea's return to Olympic Baseball after an eight-year hiatus was a thrilling one, as it pulled out all the stops, including using two pinch hitters in the bottom of the ninth. Pinch hitter Lee Taek-keun hit the game-tying RBI and scored the game-winning run.

Mike Hessman opened the US team's ninth inning rally with a home run over the leftfield fence before Taylor Teagarden and Brian Barden hit a single and a double. With the bases loaded and two outs, Matt Brown singled to center field, driving in two runs to give the States a 7-6 lead.

The final inning proved too much for relief pitcher Jeff Stevens, however, who threw wildly to first base in an attempted pick off, allowing Lee Taekkeun to advance to third. Stevens then gave up the single that won Korea the game.

The United States left seven runners on base, while the Republic of Korea managed to score 8 of 11 base runners.

Brandon Knight was the losing pitcher of record, working four and a third innings and allowing six earned runs on eight hits. Bong Jung-keun took the victory by tossing four and a third but only surrendering three runs on five hits.

Reigning Olympic champions Cuba shaped a 4-2 victory over medals rival Japan on the first day of action.

Veteran 37-year-old pitcher Norge Luis Vera picked up the win on the back of teammate Alfredo Despaigne's three RBIs and Alexei Bell's two extra base hits, while 35-year-old Pedro Luis Lazo, a four-time Olympian, entered the game in the seventh to pitch three innings of solid relief to secure the win for experienced Cuban combination.

Darvish took the loss after giving up seven hits and striking out six batters in four innings. Vera only struck out two, but scattered seven hits in six innings and twice forced Miyamoto Shinya to ground out into inning-ending double plays.

Both teams collected nine hits, with Cuba leaving 12 runners on base and Japan seven. Despaigne went three-for-four at the plate while Japan shortstop Kawasaki Munenori went three-for-three.