Friday, August 8, 2008

Let the Games Begin

By: Dick Cooke
8 a.m. - Our USOC van takes the coaches and staff to the main stadium for a short workout. There are two game fields and a practice field. All three are right next to one another, and all three are great facilities. Outstanding playing surface, nice cages. The basketball venue sits just past the center field fence of the main stadium.

9 a.m. - Stretch and throw followed by BP. Brandon Knight throws three innings in a simulated game to get his work in. Back to the hotel by 10:30.

11:30 a.m. - Staff meeting at the hotel to discuss transportation logistics, credentialing issues and our practice, game and meeting schedule. We'll have our first meeting with the scouts on Aug. 12 to talk about Korea, who we play the night of Aug. 13, and the Netherlands who we play on the morning of Aug. 14. The players are itching to go, as is everyone else.

6:30 p.m. - Opening ceremonies tonight and, since Roly and I are not credentialed to march, we join Paul Seiler and 10 others for dinner at Tim's Texas Barbeque. Nothing but real live Beijing cuisine for the baseball bunch.

A call was made to Tim's at 4 to reserve a table for our group. The cab ride takes a good 40 minutes, as we have to go around our elbow to deal with big crowds in the street and closed roads.

But the long ride will certainly be worth it as Tim's comes highly recommended by John Blundell of MLB and another MLB employee. Tim's definitely has a nice, southwestern feel to it. Texas A&M football jerseys, a Texas Longhorns football helmet, other state of Texas athletic memorabilia, TexMex food. The place is crowded so perhaps Tim has found his niche in the Beijing market. Oops. Spoke too soon.

An hour and a half after our party of 13 sits down, and a good hour after we have ordered our food, our waiter, who other than this next message did a great job, tells us that they actually don't have enough food to fill our different orders so if everyone would like a burger they could accommodate us, and they would be free of charge.

Seiler and I are amazed, handle the conversation with some head scratching, and, as we consider the proposition, six people are out of there like a shot. Four are headed to the Thai restaurant down the street, and three others zeroed in on the neighboring McDonald's. Seiler and I laugh, contemplate our options and decide to head back to the hotel. No confrontation with the waiter or manager, but simply a "we didn't quite dine" and dash. A bit of a Twilight Zone restaurant experience.

On the ride home we see a Beijing that is simply impossible to describe. It's 9 p.m., and we now see the major part of downtown, and it is incredible. Huge, wide streets, wide sidewalks and buildings lit up to their full extent that are impossible to accurately describe via written word or photos. Seiler calls the buildings "powerful." Modern architecture with an oriental touch.

Our drive takes us through Tiananmen Square again, which is the geometric center of Beijing. The buildings in and around the square, which I walked near yesterday morning, are now brightly lit and they appear to be even more magnificent. The train station is mammoth, and its lighting illuminates city block after city block.

We watch the rest of the ceremonies at the hotel and then shut it down as soon as they end, as we're all beat. We have a practice day tomorrow during which we will play an intra-squad game to keep our pitchers on track.

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