Olympic baseballers out on second strike

The two positive dope tests that rocked the Greek Olympic baseball team yesterday will reverberate just as strongly a world away in the United States. The Hellenic Olympic Committee released a statement yesterday announcing that the two athletes had also failed a second anti-doping control test. The two athletes, the committee said in its statement, are Andrew James Brack and Derek Nicholson. There are few Greek speakers on the team, which is cobbled together from Greek Americans plying their trade in baseball’s US backwaters and North American minor leagues. Greece, the country where every schoolchild knows about Homer but is rarely taught how to hit one, has no baseball pedigree. The only baseball facility prior to the Games was a dusty, rundown diamond outside Athens left behind by US servicemen. But it is a host country’s privilege to field a team in any event and the jaw-dropping failure of the US team to qualify for the Olympic tournament only added to the allure of an unlikely band of heroes. The only Americans playing ball in Athens will do so in Greek colors in a land few of them had visited before Manager Rob Derksen spent four years gathering his troops for the Olympic Odyssey. The efforts were bankrolled by Peter Angelos, the multimillionaire Greek-American owner of the Baltimore Orioles whose son Lou helped scour the rosters of all college and professional teams for Greek names. «For Mr Angelos, it’s a chance to give something back to his heritage,» Derksen, who managed Australia’s baseball team at the 1996 Olympics and tried to get Guam to Sydney four years later, said earlier this year. «We originally started with players with parents or grandparents born in Greece [then] we went to great-grandparents and that really increased our volume.» Those on the list included Clay Bellinger, a Baltimore Orioles prospect and a utility infielder, whose grandmother had a Greek birth certificate. Clint Zavaras, who made his major league debut in 1989 with the Seattle Mariners, also qualified thanks to his grandparents but has not pitched professionally for almost eight years. The initiative was also controversial, with the Greek Baseball Federation’s decision to include only two players from the Greek league, prompting the national coach to resign in protest. Meanwhile, the Greek government waived mandatory military service requirements for the athletes who obtained citizenship in order to compete at the Games. But a change of nationality does not mean a change of habits, with American baseball no stranger to doping-related problems. The World Anti-Doping Agency last year bitterly attacked baseball for not cracking down harder on drug cheats. A spokesman for the Greek team confirmed yesterday that the two athletes who had tested positive for banned substances were Greek Americans. The Greek newspaper Eleftherotypia reported that one had tested positive for the steroid stanozolol and was a key player on the squad who was already in the Olympic Village. It said the other tested positive for a diuretic but the head of the Greek baseball federation, Panayiotis Mitsiopoulos, said the player had a medical condition and a prescription from the United States. «Of course, he declared in advance that he has a high blood pressure problem and has a US prescription for the medication in question,» Mitsiopoulos said. (Reuters, Kathimerini)

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