by Al Campbell
VANCOUVER, June 30 (Xinhua) -- Playing with borrowed bats, the Liaoning women's softball team got off to a strong start at the Canadian Open Fastpitch International Championship in Surrey, British Columbia, Saturday in hammering the host White Rock Renegades Senior team 8-0 in their opening game.
With Liaoning finding out just before game time at the Vancouver-area championship that their bats had been ruled illegal by tournament officials for not having an international softball federation stamp on them, the visitors got a loan of bats from their hosts and came out blazing.
Following four runs in the opening inning, Liaoning added a single in the third, and three more runs in the fifth before the game was called for the mercy rule, implemented when one team has a presumably insurmountable lead over the other.
Pitcher Jin Lingling got the win in allowing the Renegades only four hits, while veteran first baseman Xin Min Hong scored three runs despite registering only one hit as the Renegades committed two errors.
With 89 elite teams from 14 countries in the tournament, including five of the world's top six teams, the Canadian Open is seen as a key warm-up for the International Softball Federation Women's World Championship, July 13-22, in Whitehorse, Yukon.
Liaoning has four to five national team members on its team, among them Dalian native Xin, who was on the China team that finished sixth at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
China is currently ranked world No. 4.
"This tournament (in Canada) is important because we are preparing for the Chinese National Games in 2013. This is a good opportunity for us to practice," said the 33-year-old who was a member of the Liaoning team that won the gold medal at the 2009 National Games in Shandong.
"There are some young players on our team, so the levels of our players are not the same. I hope that in this competition, with the help of the veteran players on the team, we can play well."
With the Summer Olympics set to open in London on July 27, it will be the first time softball will not be part of the roster in recent years. After being part of four straight Games starting in 1996, the International Olympic Committee in 2005 made the decision to drop both softball and baseball starting in 2012.
Ironically, after the sport was dropped, Japan shocked the powerful U.S.A. team at the Beijing Games in the championship, ending the American's run of three straight gold medals.
"That was a pretty big story in the sport and ironically one of the reasons that we hear softball was taken off the Olympic card was that it was considered almost a guaranteed gold medal for the Americans," said Greg Timm, chairman of the Canadian Open Fastpitch International Championship.
"After the 2008 Olympics when Japan won, I think there were a lot of people scratching their heads that maybe the Olympic power over time had built the infrastructure of the sport so that the U.S. could be beat, so that might help get it back in again later."
Softball has currently been accepted as one of the finalists to get back into the 2020 Games, something that the IOC will vote upon next year. If successful, such a move would help in growing the sport in China, according to Liaoning coach Zhan Guo Yu, who told Xinhua there's less than 1,000 softball players in the country.
"As a softball player in China, we hope that in next year's vote for the 2020 Olympic Games, the sport would enter the big family of Olympic Games again," he said.
"What's more, now in China we are promoting this sport, including at elementary schools. We hope the number of people playing this game in China will get more and more. Once the number of people who play and like this sport get more than the overall level will increase gradually."
Despite China winning the silver medal when softball debuted at the 1996 Atlanta Games, Xin adds the sport still has a long way to go in gaining popularity in China.
"It's not as popular as big ball sports (like football, basketball and volleyball)," she said. "But there are more and more amateur teams playing in China and we think the development of the sport will get better and better."