Seattle native Sean Spencer is a professional baseball player with Greek ancestry. In Spencer's case, his great-grandfather left the Ioanian Sea island of Cephalonia more than 100 years ago, bound for the United States. Right now, that's good enough to play for the home team.
In this case, the “home team” really is the team playing at home. The former University of Washington left-hander and Baltimore Orioles farmhand, who pitched for the Seattle Mariners and Montreal Expos four years ago, is a reliever on the Greek baseball team at the Athens Olympics.
"It's been unbelievable so far," Spencer said Monday. "We've had a chance to see and meet different athletes from all over the world."
Baseball is virtually unknown in Greece. However, the Greek Olympic Committee felt obligated to field a team in the sport since the host nation receives an automatic berth into the Olympic tournament for every sport. The newly-formed Greek baseball federation turned to Orioles owner and Greek descendant Peter Angelos to help recruit U.S. minor-leaguers and college players of Greek ancestry. The Greek baseball team includes players with extended major league experience: infielder Clay Bellinger and catcher Erik Pappas.
Being part of the Greek experiment has given Spencer an indoctrination in the nation's extensive history and culture. But he said that since the Americans arrived Aug. 6, they've played to mixed audiences. "It's been kind of half and half," Spencer said. "Some people are really happy we're here to represent Greece and some are a little upset that we’re mostly Americans."
The Greeks opened the Olympics with an 11-0 loss to the Netherlands on Sunday night, and fans cheered for outs as well as hits. Greece rebounded Monday night, coming within a whisker of what would have been an extraordinary upset. The Greeks scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth before losing 5-4 to powerhouse Cuba.
A similar problem faced the Greek softball league: a lack of experienced players. Greece's Olympic softball team now also includes several Americans, all with Greek ancestors.