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Making of Chinese Olympic baseball team captured

August 11, 2008

In the heat of the Arizona sun, at a field normally used by Major League Baseball prospects, a group of players who speak not a word of English do their best to comprehend the basics of the most American of games.

They are Chinese – gifted natural athletes who know more about gymnastics and table tennis than double plays and sacrifice flies.

Their American coaches are retired from the majors but are looking to help bring together two of the world’s most disconnected cultures through the language of baseball.

Welcome to “Out of Left Field” – a remarkable glimpse into this world – a first-of-its-kind opportunity to see the emergence of a sport in a nation that once considered baseball “cultural pollution.” Jim Lefebvre, former player and coach with the Los Angeles Dodgers, is in charge of turning Chinese players with limited skills into Olympic-caliber athletes. Along with a handful of other retired pros – and with the cooperation of Major League Baseball – they are helping to bring America’s game to a nation with one-fifth of the world’s population.

“Out of Left Field: The Making of the Chinese Olympic Baseball Team” airs at 10 p.m., Aug. 14, on PBS. It was filmed in high definition by Tom Jennings Productions, in association with Eight/KAET-TV.

“Out of Left Field” follows the team from the practice fields of Arizona to the storied cities of Europe and to the villages of the athletes back home – even to China’s shopping malls, where players hand out booklets explaining the rules of the game to anyone willing to listen. This is part culture clash and part sports drama, combined with an inspiring follow-your-dreams quest.