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Second baseman Stubby Clapp helped the Canadian men's national baseball team to a fourth-place finish at the 2004 Athens Olympics. ((Canadian Press))

Stubby Clapp, considered Canada's most popular and scrappiest Olympic baseball player, says there isn't a better feeling than representing his country.

And that is what the 35-year-old second baseman from Windsor, Ont., will do in August at the Beijing Games after being granted permission Thursday night by the Houston Astros to leave his job as hitting coach of their single-A affiliate.

A week ago, Houston management informed Clapp and Baseball Canada they weren't comfortable with him leaving his job with the Lexington Legends of the South Atlantic League for a month to play for Canada.

Disappointed at the original decision, Clapp approached Astros management this week with a shortened timetable for his absence in hopes they would reconsider.

"Providing for my wife [Chastity] and kids [Cooper, 4, and Cannan, 1] is the main thing at stake here," Clapp told CBCSports.ca on Friday. "I didn't want to upset anybody or inconvenience the Astros.

"They were kind enough to say, 'You take the time you need to finish what you started [with Canada] and everything will be fine.'

"I respect Houston and this is a great organization. I didn't want to mess it up here."

Clapp is in his second year with the Astros organization after retiring as a full-time player. His contract expires on Oct. 31.

Clapp will join his Canadian teammates for a workout at Rogers Centre in Toronto on July 29 before departing for Raleigh, N.C., for a series of exhibition games against the United States Olympic squad from Aug. 1-4.

Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada's director of national teams, said his club would play a couple of tuneup games in Beijing before opening the Olympic tourney Aug. 13.

Unexpected win

Clapp participated at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens where Canada finished fourth, but first came to prominence with the national team during the 1999 Pan American Games.

During round-robin play in Winnipeg, the underdog Canadians faced the more experienced and talented American team. Clapp walked to home plate with the bases loaded in the 11th inning and the score tied 6-6.

More than cross-border bragging rights were on the line when Clapp blooped a single that dropped between the shortstop and left-fielder to give Canada the unexpected win.

The hit turned Clapp, known for his grit, hustle and trademark back flip, into a Canadian cult hero and he was a media darling among journalists.

Clapp said he cherishes the camaraderie, games and competition of an international baseball tournament.

"The name and colours [of the Canadian uniform], there's nothing else to be said," said Clapp. "When you have 'Canada' across your chest, there's an overwhelming feeling that comes with it."

Hamilton told CBCSports.ca his only concern with Clapp is how the player's left knee will respond to the daily grind.

'I've got something to really work for'

Clapp stretched ligaments in the knee when he collided with a German catcher during Canada's last Olympic qualifying game in March, but said he'll be ready for Beijing.

"It's coming around slowly but surely. I've been working on it," said Clapp, who was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 36th round of the 1996 amateur draft. "With [Thursday's] news, I can press on and know that I've got something to really work for."

Hamilton said Clapp isn't one to make a commitment and not follow through.

"He's probably going to get six [pre-Olympic] games to get his timing down," Hamilton said. "He's able to take ground balls and swing a bat. He's not 100 per cent, so we've gotta go down that path."

While Hamilton was prepared to move forward without Clapp, he also realizes a player of his ilk isn't replaceable.

"He's one of those guys that just has a natural respect amongst his peers for what he's about and how he's gone about accomplishing the things he's accomplished within his career," said Hamilton.

"He's never shied away … and he's never given up. It's hard not to be on a team Stubby Clapp's on and not compete because you just look over there [at second base] and realize that it's inherently unacceptable."