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Mike Fiore is associate director and general manager of USA baseball. He was a member of the gold-medal winning 1988 U.S. Olympic baseball team after a standout career at the University of Miami. He also played four years in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. He shared his thoughts on the Olympics with Times staff writer Marc Topkin.

Against every other team, we're going to fall into a situation where they have more experienced and older players.

Most other countries don't have structured professional baseball like we do, where we take athletes at 17 to 18 and put them in the minors (and thus make them ineligible for the Olympics).

Most international baseball is played in the industrial-league setting. Players work for a living and play for the company baseball team. It's similar to the minors but it's funded in a different way. The players are not true professionals, but they still have the experiences of professionals. That's one distinct advantage when they play us.

Our biggest opponents will be Cuba, Japan, Korea, Nicaragua and Australia.

Most certainly Cuba.

Everyone is familiar with Cuba's domination of international baseball. They are state-supported professionals, very similar to Russian hockey players in the early 1980s. Many of their players could play in the major leagues.

They will come in with a lot of experience, and they play a power game from the pitching standpoint and from the offensive standpoint. They can beat you with the home run, and they can beat you with the strikeout. They play with a very intimidating style, almost to the point of arrogance when they have the lead. But as evidenced last year, they can be beat, and they will be beat.

Japan plays with more of a finesse style. They are very disciplined, and they also have experience. The Asian countries have more of a tactical style. It's more against the game, if you will _ more situational baseball _ than against their opponents. They have real good arms, and they don't make any errors. Typically, they don't have a lot of power. They beat you by hitting the ball around the ballpark, alley to alley.

Korea in recent years has changed styles. They have become a little more aggressive and play more of a power style of baseball. They've combined power with finesse. I suspect Korea will have as strong a team as anybody.

Australia is an interesting mix. There is a lot of talent there. They are very similar to the U.S. in style but they bring kind of their own aggressiveness. It's a hit-and-run style, a very up-tempo game that takes you out of your game and creates offensive situations for themselves. They players swing the bats very aggressively. One weakness is that Australia doesn't have depth in pitching.

We play Nicaragua our first game in the tournament, and we will have to play at the best level we can. They are a very offensive team with very good front-line pitchers. The Nicaraguans have a very aggressive power-hitting game and a very disciplined, finesse style of breaking-ball pitching. They have good left-handed pitching. They're my sleeper in the tournament.

The key for the United States is to continue to improve and keep the pressure on. Our strength will be our pitching. One thing we took from last summer is that no matter what the situation or the circumstance, never falter. The idea is to keep battling back against more mature players. Ultimately that will lead to our success.