Ex-minor leaguer from Troy goes to bat for Greece - Associated Press - Edward Jones

By SARAH KARUSH  I  The Associated Press - 7/21/2004, 2:25 p.m. ET

TROY, Mich. (AP) -- Chris Demetral didn't know quite what to make of the question.

In 2001, during his last season with the Triple-A farm team for the Texas Rangers, the manager appeared after batting practice to ask whether anyone's grandparents were born in Greece.

"I looked around the clubhouse, thinking, `Who's trying to mess with me here?'" he recalled.

But that strange inquiry was no joke, and Demetral's Greek heritage turned out to be his ticket to the Olympics. Three years after leaving the minor leagues for a new career as a stockbroker, the Troy resident will don the uniform of Greece's Olympic team in Athens next month.

Baseball is all but nonexistent in the birthplace of the games, so Greece brought together a team comprised mostly of Americans of Greek descent. As the host nation, Greece receives an automatic bid to all events, but its oddly assembled baseball team ended up qualifying on its own.

For the 34-year-old Demetral, it's almost unreal.

"In 2001, you think, `This all sounds great, but we'll see what happens.' It doesn't ever seem real, and now we're a few weeks away from heading to Athens," said Demetral, whose office at financial services company Edward Jones is decorated with family portraits and baseball photos.

"I'm so excited. I've got some anxiety -- I don't know what to expect," the infielder added. "I hope I can still perform. ... How much have my skills diminished?"

Demetral, who spent 11 years in the minor leagues, said his clients have asked if they can watch him play in the Olympics on TV. "I just tell them to look for the player that the ball's rolling through his legs into the outfield -- that's how you'll know it's me," he joked.

But showing he had the abilities for the team was easier in some ways than meeting the other major requirement to play for Greece: having Greek citizenship, which Demetral was able to obtain thanks to his Greek-born grandparents.

"It was a long process, coming up with baptismal certificates and my grandparents' birth certificates and death certificates," he said.

About two months ago, Demetral and his brother Scott, 30, a coach on the team, went to the Greek consulate in Chicago to be sworn in.

"Me and my brother don't speak Greek, so we were fumbling through that. They were great at the consulate, trying not to laugh at us," he recalled.

Amid the excitement, the Greek team suffered a setback in June, when manager Rob Derksen died at age 44 of a heart attack. Derksen, a scout with the Baltimore Orioles, was brought in to coach the Greek team by Orioles owner Peter Angelos, a Greek American who has given financial backing to the team.

"It's just awful. He was so young. He was like a little kid -- he was so excited about this thing," Demetral said. "We're going to miss him a ton in the dugout."

Demetral recalled how Derksen would call him from the road to tell him about his adventures searching for players whose last name contained "os" or other Greek typical endings.

"He would call and joke, `Yeah, it turned out this guy was Lithuanian,'" Demetral said.

For Demetral, playing for Greece is more than just a chance to play in the Olympics. It's also a way to honor his family's heritage, he said.

Demetral's paternal grandfather arrived in the United States at age 19; his grandmother came at age 1. After they married, they lived above the restaurant they owned off Jefferson Avenue in Detroit.

His grandfather died when he was a baby, and Demetral's exposure to Greek culture was limited mostly to visits with his grandmother and an occasional Greek wedding.

"It is so much like that darn movie," he chuckled, referring to the 2002 hit "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."

Demetral and his wife, Tanya, visited Greece during a trip through Europe. But his parents will go for the first time when they head over for the Olympics.

"He's going to be able to see the village where his father grew up," Demetral said. "I don't think my dad ever would have went, had it not been for this."

Absent from Athens will be Tanya and the couple's sons, Andre, 3, and Nicholas, 1. Tanya is due to give birth to their third child on Aug. 29, the day of the closing ceremonies.

Will Demetral be home on time?

"That's a sore subject in my house," he said. "I sure would like to see the closing ceremonies, seeing as I'll never have a chance to participate again. I'm just hoping my wife is late."