NOVEMBER 29, 2006
(STAR) By Dante Navarro - Baseball, the last sport to make it to the Doha roster, will be the first to plunge into action as it kicks off the Philippines’ campaign in the Asian Games against Japan today at the Al-Rayyan Baseball-Softball venue in Doha, Qatar.

Although the formal opening rites of the 15th staging of the continent’s premier sporting event will not be held until Friday, baseball takes center stage this early with the RP-Japan contest slated at 1:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m. Manila time) after the 9 a.m. clash between China and Thailand.

A series of qualifying rounds has actually been staged as early as last week to accommodate the big number of entries in basketball, football and volleyball but the actual Asian Games competition will only be held beginning today in baseball and table tennis (team events).

Korea, which ruled the last two stagings of the Asiad, including the 2002 Games in Busan, opens its three-peat bid against title contender Chinese-Taipei at 9 a.m. tomorrow after which the Filipino clouters take the spotlight again by tackling the Chinese batters at 1:30 p.m.

The 22-man RP baseball squad, the only team sport in the big Philippine delegation, was nearly scratched out of the Asiad list but the PABA (Philippine Amateur Baseball Association) was able to raise the P1.5 million funds needed to finance its participation in the quadrennial games at the last minute.

Actually, P2 million was needed for the budget but deputy chef de mission and Philippine sports commissioner Richie Garcia gave the go signal for the team after Paba president Hector Navasero came up with a specific plan to defray the expenses.

The Filipino batters, however, will have a tougher task at hand at the playing field as they try to hurdle the likes of Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China and Thailand in the single round elims among six teams to make it to the next round.

The Philippines actually has entries in table tennis in Ernesto Ebuen and Richard Gonzales, who are entered in the singles competition, which starts on Saturday.

Meanwhile, bowling, one of the three gold medal producers in the last Asiad, the other two being billiards and equestrian, heads the next batch leaving for Doha today. The team will be headed by flag-bearer and four-time World Cup champion Paeng Nepomuceno, who with RJ Bautista won the gold medal in the doubles event in Busan.

The talent-laden squad also includes Markwin Tee, a gold medalist in the Manila SEA Games last year, Tyrone Ongpauco, Chester King, Engelberto Rivera, Christian Suarez, Josephine Canare, Irene Garcia-Benitez, Liza del Rosario, Daisy Posadas, Liza Clutario, Cecilia Yap, coaches Carlos de Leon and Dansker Tonolete and manager Madoka Amano.

Also set to leave are the cycling and rowing teams while the snooker and billiards squads, another gold medal prospects, will depart tomorrow along with the tennis team.

Billiards will be bannered by Leonardo Andam, Antonio Gabica and Jeff de Luna, a revelation in the World Pool Championship where he reached the last 16.

Sailing (12) is set to depart on Dec. 1, taekwondo (16), athletics (15) and triathlon (6) on Dec. 3, golf (11), wrestling (9), bodybuilding (4), archery (11), fencing (16) and cycling (9) on Dec. 5, diving (8), canoe-kayak (6), squash (3) and wushu (11) on Dec. 7 and karatedo (11) on Dec. 8.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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