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Getting to know your World Baseball Classic squads: China

Big League Stew

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Whether you're waiting for it or not, the World Baseball Classic is fast approaching. The international shindig kicks off in Tokyo on March 5 and runs through the final at Dodger Stadium on March 23. In an attempt to get you quickly up to speed with what's going on, BLS will be running occasional team previews as the event nears.

PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA

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Pool: A, Tokyo

'06 WBC finish: lost 12-3 to Chinese Taipei; went 0-3 in pool play, outscored an average of 13-2

First game: Thurs., March 5 vs. Japan

Five questions to ask about China

• Chairman Mao really loved baseball, didn't he? Sadly, my counter-revolutionary friends, Zedong must have been picked last for sandlot as a kid. As an adult, he preferred baseball to be just crouching and hidden, differing with a fellow Red, Cuba's Fidel Castro, on the grand old game's greatness. The Chinese played baseball in the 19th and into the mid-20th centuries, but by the 1960s Mao had banned the sport, reportedly considering it "a bourgeois indulgence of the rich." Anyone who's seen the Yankees payroll might be inclined to agree about the rich part. Mao died in 1976, and China didn't get its six-team professional league (thanks to American business interests) until the early '00s. As the Dodgers and Padres excursion to China showed a year ago, there's still something of a Great Wall constructed between Us and Them when it comes to baseball.

• The Chinese can handle a ping-pong racket and Yao can pivot and shoot, but what about swinging a baseball bat? The '06 WBC went about as expected; the highlights included fielding a team and a two-run home run by catcher Wei Wang (now a Mariners signee) against Japan. In '08, the national team went 22-9 against U.S. college teams and pro players in extended spring training, and international improvement became obvious at the recent Summer Olympics, despite a 1-6 record. China's win was a shocker against Taipei and it took 11 innings for Korea (which won the tournament reached the semis) to beat the Chinese 1-0.

• Where in the World is Wei Wang? Not playing, because of an injury suffered at the Olympics. Team China's provisional roster has three others signed to play in the U.S., including a couple of Yankees "farmhands" — left-hander Kai Liu and catcher Zhenwang Zhang — plus Pirates infielder Ray Chang (who actually is from Kansas City, Mo.). Liu and Zhang, LoHud's Peter Abraham confided to Big League Stew, have been in witness protection "extended spring training" since 2007.

• Is Jim Lefebvre managing again? No, as he's now the batting coach for the Padres. Taking his place, Terry Collins, who has major league managing experience with the Astros and Angels, plus a stint in Japan. Either of those guys being in charge recalls an HBO movie from the early '90s called "The Comrades of Summer," which starred Joe Mantegna as a feisty American picked to manage the Soviet Union's baseball team in the Olympics. Life imitating art.

• Should the umps check for lead in China's bats? Might be an OK idea, considering some Chinese businesses continue to struggle with exporting toxic toys. Assuming the players and their equipment are clean, history suggests Team China's best approach is to shoot for low-scoring games. China's bracket has Korea and Japan, along with Taipei, which will be looking to avenge Beijing.

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Previous WBC previews: Korea (Jan. 9); Venezuela (Jan. 13); Australia (Jan. 21) Mexico (Jan. 27); Netherlands (Jan. 29); South Africa (Feb. 4).

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