Olympic opening leaves US breathless

Olympic opening leaves US breathless

BEIJING -- The Summer Olympics are officially under way, the cauldron flame has been lighted in a manner that will be talked about for generations, China has a lot of new friends and "The Greatest Show On Earth" lived up to its $100 million expectations on a sultry Friday night inside the incomparable Bird's Nest.

What an Opening Ceremony. One World One Dream has just been replaced as the most useful phrase here by How Did They Do That?

"It'll be something to remember for a long time," said Jayson Nix, shortstop for the United States baseball team, which opens competition Tuesday against Korea. "They did a great job. It was an unbelievable experience.

"My own personal highlight was right before the ceremony, when we met the President. It was real quick, he kind of made his rounds and met everybody on the U.S. team. All of the U.S. athletes got to mingle around. That was nice."

Jeremy Cummings and Brian Duensing are pitchers and Athlete Village roommates on the U.S. team, and after making their way back to the village on the buses that mixed athletes from all nations, they each said their highlight was a no-brainer.

"When they lit the torch, of course, that was amazing to me," Cummings said. "When it went all the way around to light the torch and when it caught fire, my body went numb. Only the Chinese would figure out how to do that. I think they're incredible. Their architecture over here is really amazing, too. The buildings that we passed on the way to the baseball field earlier ... they have a hotel that's just awesome.

"I was in awe tonight. When we walked through those tunnels, it's real bright in the tunnels, then it gets a little dark, and then suddenly it opens up and just to see 90,000 people in the audience and the roar they had going already -- amazing."

That word was used a lot on this evening. "That many athletes in the Olympics -- to be with the likes of Kobe (Bryant), LeBron (James, who brought up the rear for the U.S. team in the entrance parade) and Jennie Finch, those are amazing athletes."

Duensing couldn't wait to tell his family all about it. They are back in his native Omaha, Neb., which was 13 hours behind. He called his wife Lisa right after he made it back to the village.

"The lighting of the torch was pretty sweet to see," he said. "I told my family, 'You guys have to tape this thing, it's gonna be awesome.' I wanted to take pictures, but right as soon as we're got into the tunnel my camera messed up.

"When we came through the tunnel, you just see this huge stadium, all these people staring at you, cheering, lights, all the athletes are chanting, 'USA! USA!' as we go out there, and then you just have all the camera flashes going off, you see the American flag sporadically in the crowd and you give a little effort to give those people a wave.

"I got a little emotional thinking about family members that'll be watching it later," Duensing added. "Being there, being away from the family and knowing they'll be watching got to me a little bit. The way they put up the Olympic flag was emotional. And it was really awesome when China came in, to hear the crowd support."

China was the last team to enter in that nearly two-hour portion of the ceremony. Greece was first. The USA was in the back third, with a contingent that seemed to stretch forever. There were approximately 100 heads of state in attendance, the most ever for an Olympic Opening Ceremony, and the only discordant notes the whole night were the groans when President Bush was shown on the two giant scoreboards while waving to the American athletes entering National Stadium. Those were coming from the vastly mixed audience representing fans of many nations.

"We stuck together, we walked out together, then we got together once in the infield, but after that it's all for one," Cummings said, when asked whether all the baseball players marched together. "The bus afterwards, that was awesome. I was trying to learn Chinese. There was a French guy there trying to speak our language. It was pretty cool. The bus probably held 45 to 50 people, and we had over 85 people on our bus. The little girl who worked for the company was freaking out."

This Opening Ceremony was billed as the greatest show on Earth, and it quite possibly was. Artistic director Zhang Yimou had the daunting task of incorporating 5,000 years worth of Chinese civilization into one program, and it was done with mind-blowing technology and artistic flair. The stadium itself was the star, its open-roof ring stretching a few stories high above and serving as a projector screen for waterfalls, whales, flying doves, stars, ancient Silk Road travel and much more.

Everything about this Opening Ceremony left one breathless and wanting more. That is what a good Opening Ceremony is supposed to do, of course. There are 16 days of competition, and for the U.S. baseball team, that competition is almost here. It can't come soon enough, according to the players who spoke to MLB.com after the ceremony.

The U.S. team has an intrasquad scrimmage from 6-8 p.m. local time on Saturday, then it will play exhibitions against China on Sunday and Monday. The U.S. played China in an exhibition Thursday, an 11-0 victory that was scheduled for two hours and went a little over, and then it had a brief workout the next morning.

"We're all very excited to get in the competition and play instead of just scrimmaging China or ourselves," Cummings said. "We're pretty anxious to get this going."

"We're ready to go," Duensing said. "We have intrasquad, then China a couple times before actual games -- we're kind of ready to go. We've got the itch a little bit to see what we're going to do."

"We've had a lot of consecutive days of working out," said Nix, the top Rockies prospect who has looked sharp in the field and at the plate. "It will be good to get our feet under us and get this thing going."

It won't be long now. The Games of the XXIX Olympiad are under way, and good luck figuring out how they just did that at the Bird's Nest.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.