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Teenager Pitching Star Offers Hope for 2008
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Team China lost all three games at the Tokyo Dome in the Konami Cup Asia Series 2006, but scouts may have uncovered a major pitching talent.

Zhu Dawei, 18, from Shanghai, moved to Japan aged 11 with his parents, and the high school student was signed by Japanese Pacific League baseball team Seibu Lions on September 25.

Zhu's significance is not only his awesome 145-kilometre-per-hour pitching speed, rarely seen among players his age, but also how he could aid China realize its baseball medal dream at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

"I see great potential in him," said Shen Wei, secretary-general of China Baseball Association. "I have been looking for a talent like him for a long time."

Competing on home soil, the Chinese baseball team is targeting a historic breakthrough in 2008, aiming to win a medal at the eight-team tournament. The event would be all the more shocking since this will be Team China's first participation in the baseball event at the Olympics.

However, the lack of talent due to the sport's low popularity in China has become a headache for officials trying to build a competitive Olympic team.

Like previous Olympic hosts Greece, China is now looking overseas for eligible young talent produced by strong baseball nations like Japan and the United States.

Zhu is the most exciting discovery so far. An imposing presence on the mound at 1.85m tall and 85kg, he gets his sporting talent from his parents, both former volleyball players.

Before signing with the Lions, he was one of the top high school players in Aichi prefecture in central Japan, helping his school reach the final 16 at the 188-team high school league this summer.

Zhu, who retains his Chinese nationality, is eager to play for his national team in the 2008 Games.

"He has a great body and a bright future," Shen said. "And he will get better after training with a professional Japanese team."

A powerful pitcher like Zhu is badly needed at the moment: During the Konami Cup, the pitchers were the team's weak link, giving up more than ten hits per game.

Zhu's idol is Lions team-mate Daisuke Matsuzaka, the MVP of inaugural World Baseball Classic who US Major League teams are ready to shell out megabucks to sign.

For Zhu, his priority is winning a place at the national team. "I think I am capable of pitching for China next year," he said.

If possible, China is considering fielding Zhu during next year's Konami Cup to raise his international experience and to acquaint him with the team.

"If he stays healthy and keeps improving, I think it will be very likely for him to represent China at the 2008 Olympic Games," Shen said.

(China Daily November 14, 2006)

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