Saturday, February 23, 2008

Even rugby isn't off limits

Table tennis, diving, badminton maybe even swimming.... these are the sports that come to mind when you think of mainland Chinese athletes.... but rugby??

One is a small, athletic martial arts whiz studying at the elite Beijing Sports University, the other, a stocky, strongly built amateur soccer goalkeeper from the Tianjin province, southeast of Beijing. The national sport of a continent more than 2000+ miles south of their home country is what brought them together. Zhao Yonggen, 22, and Zhao Wei, 21 are now both co-captains of the Chinese National Team to compete in the international tournament in Melbourne.

While these guys aren't exactly stars (Zhao Yonggen pictured below), it's encouraging to know that the Melbourne Demons, one of the top teams in the Australian Football League (a variation on traditional rugby) has started to consider China as a serious untapped source of players.

While this game is unique to Australia, it has strong parallels and similarities to rugby and soccer (many players of this game are former soccer players) and an international tournament to be played in August and September in Melbourne, with teams including China, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Great Britain, India, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, the United States and South Africa.

At first glance, two semi-talented Chinese players in Australian football isn't too much to rave about, even for a blog dedicated to Asians in professional sports... but there's a greater picture and message to this... the growing awareness and redirection of resources of individual sports towards the potential of mainland Chinese athletes. The New York Islanders and the Charles B. Wang outreach program, the NBA reaching out to China thanks to the success of Yao and Yi, the New York Yankees working with the Chinese Baseball Association
to trade coaching and conditioning services with each other and eventually sign some players to the American league and the Australian Football League....

Watch out Commissioner Goddell, we're comin.

FUKUDOME MANIA Takes America by Storm!

FUKUDOME = pronunciation (Foo-koo-doe-may) or (Fuk-u-do-me)???
You make the call?

I predict FUKUDOME Mania will sweep the nation when baseball season starts and he has not even played a single major league game. His name will be chanted in every packed stadium with vigor and passion. I am boldly making this statement not because I have been tracking this player since the beginning of his career. In fact I have not even seen highlights of this guy; that is as much faith as anyone can ever show in an unproven rookie. Why do you ask do I have this undying faith in him? Drum roll please… It’s all because of his name. I am sure people are now scratching their heads and wondering “What is this guy saying?” “Has he pulled a Seth Rogen and and toked up on a huge joint inside a fish bowl?” The answer is no. Fukudome is every obnoxious fan’s (like myself) wet dream. You just can’t lose with a name like that. Without any customization you have your very own legit offensive jersey. What else do you want? So without further adieu: Ladies and Gentlemen your chant for the MLB 2008 season:


“Wait till they see what’s behind the jersey!”

Friday, February 22, 2008

World Games 2009

So if you still don't think Chien-Ming Wang's reputation is the Michael Jordan of Taiwan...

World Games of 2009, an international multi-sport competition organized and governed by the International World Games Association under the patronage International Olympic Committee...... what's that mean? The World Games are the biggest international sporting event, second only to the Olympics.

So for the 2009 games held in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, Wang will be the official spokesperson of the event. Being the official spokesperson of an event as big as the Olympics speaks magnitudes about his stardom.

The last world games in 2007 was held in Duisburg, Germany FYI.

Below is a promotional video for the event. If you don't care for it... Wang doing the tango should compel to watch it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Yao and Jackie

Hey, don't blame me, this is a blog about Asian sports stars right.....?

Who was the first NBA player from China?

Not Yao Ming... Yes, I'm for real, No, I'm not full of it.

Bueller......... bueller.......?

Zhizhi Wang......? Zhizhi Wang........?

Yeah that's right, here's a tidbit. First NBA player from China, Zhizhi Wang, drafted in 2001 by the Dallas Mavericks, played two seasons there, two more seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers (no that's not a typo, Los Angeles actually has another team... the city's neglected younger brother? Nah.... a city wouldn't do that to its own franchise.... just ask the NY Jets.........), two more season with the Miami Heat... then to 05 to present with the Bayi Rockets.... huh?

No they're not in the Eastern Northwest conference.. that's right, Wang went back to China.

Didn't do too good in the states, decided China was a better league fit for him (seems to be working, named MVP of the China Basketball Association (CBA) championship against the Guangdong Tigers in 2007).... during the World Championships, averaged 8.2 points, 3.5 rebounds a game over 8 games....... home sweet home I guess (only 4.4 points and 1.7 rebounds per game over a 6 year career in the NBA).... was a replacement player for who else... Yao Ming during the leadup for the world championships.

Anyway, he's one of the torch bearers leading up to the Beijing Olympics in August.

Someone call Wang, Yao wants his bragging rights back...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Asian hockey players?

So where are all the Asian hockey players? There was Paul Kariya

who's played since 1993 for the Louisville Blues, Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators, partial Japanese descent.

And........ that's right, nobody else. No, sorry to disappoint, I don't know when the train full of asian nhl prospects are going to be arriving. Nobody who's even of partial Asian background, Paul has been the only asian player to make an appearance of more than a few days in the NHL.

So while I can't offer any insight into why there aren't more Asian players... I can however offer something in this blog that's in my mind is more positive and encouraging..... the possible future of Asian players in the NHL.

SO, a fact that many of you may not know. Charles Wang , co-founder of Computer Associates, basically a billionaire, became part owner of the New York Islanders in 2000 and majority owner 2004. When I started writing this particular post, I really thought that it would center how asians are putting their foot in the door in the area of franchise ownership.... how Charles Wang was a pioneer in terms of having a say in franchise decisions and I would do my evil 'asian domination' laugh..... BUT, then I ran a pet project of that he's started recently called the Charles B. Wang Ice Hockey Project Hope.

Officially, the goal of Wang's Project Hope is:
"To provide young Chinese athletes with access to educational opportunities.

Project Hope will endeavor to create opportunities for cultural exchange through international youth hockey events and by promoting Project Hope scholarship placements in the United States."

Unofficially from the events this foundation has sponsored and put on, it's intention is to provoke the kind of fanaticism that Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian have injected into the 1.5 billion Chinese citizens (think viewership of the super bowl was huge? Try 200 million for a regular season game of Yi vs. Yao) or the inspiration that Chien-Ming Wang has brought to his politically volatile country of Taiwan.

That's Wang in the black suit with these young kids.

Currently there are only three professional hockey teams in China, in the cities of Harbin, Qigihar and Jiamusi. Ever heard of them? No, that's because these teams are second-tier amateur groups of rink loving skaters at best, forced to play low-level competitions because of lack of sponsorship, interest, passion for the sport from the general public, you name it. Maybe you could argue that Asia just isn't very interested in the sport, but fortunately (or unfortunately.... depends on how ya see it), this isn't true either. South Korea and Japan have teams that are consistent medal contenders in the Winter Olympics, so the interest is in the region. Trick is how to tap into the fan potential of China like countries rally behind their soccer teams.

So through Wang's program, the foundation will over 5 years, set up a China Ice Hockey Training Center, 3 women's ice hockey training bases and select 30 primary schools and 10 high schools to groom future players of the sport. Eventually, the foundation will select especially gifted products of their system to attend American universities and hopefully be drafted into the NHL to become the next Yao, Yi, or Wang of their sport.

Good stuff Charles.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Emergence of young position players

We all know about Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima, and probably even Chien-Ming Wang... outstanding new comers to the MLB from Japan and Taiwan... but where are the infielders? It just seems every new highly touted "rookie" coming over from Japan are all pitchers...??

Not anymore, glad to report, there are more and more position players coming over albeit their emergence isn't as rapid-fire as prospects from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, even Cuba! But the main point here is, the far east is slowly becoming a serious contender for the MLB's pipeline of foreign prospects.

So here we go, ringing in at a respectable #50 on Keith Law of ESPN's top 100 upcoming prospects we have shortstop Chin-Lung Hu from Taiwan of the LA Dodgers. Made his major league debut, brought up from the minor leagues played 12 games with a .241 batting average.

Akinori Iwamura, slick fielding, contact hitting minded 2nd baseman, one year veteran of the Tampa Bay Rays (debut against the NYY, April 2nd 2007, didn't play a full season mind you... but has most definitely assured his spot in the 2008 Rays starting line-up).

Kosuke Fukudome, right fielder who played nine seasons with the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese Central League with a .305 average who was just signed by the Chicago Cubs.

No, I haven't forgotten about Ichiro. Unbelievable outfielder, a senior ambassador to Japanese baseball in the MLB but while he's still not nearly past his prime, he is about to enter his veteran-ly 8th season with the Seattle Mariners. The three players that I've mentioned just above don't even have a full single season in their stat books just yet.

Ichiro will undoubtedly continue to shine and make the headlines but as the years progress, you're going to find yourself looking at the days recap of games and find more asian names that are making headlines for both their defensive and offensive plays. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Ichiro and would cry like a 4 year old girl the day he retired from MLB, but If I had the choice of seeing Ichiro being the only asian position player that makes the headlines or seeing a a new legion of other Iwamuras', Fukudome's and Hu's start to make a name for themselves... I think I'd want to see more and more asian players start to pervade the major leagues instead of just the "token Asian".

There was at a certain point in history when MLB was an ethnically homogeneous sport. In 1902, Luis Castro of the Philadelphia Athletics became the first Latino player to play in the MLB. To put it poorly, Castro was the token "Latino" in the majors.

In 1947, Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers (heard of him? ;) became the first African American player to play in the MLB... and like Castro, Robinson became the token "black guy" in the majors.

Since 1902, there have been over 700 Latino managers, players and coaches that have graced the MLB with their presence.

Since 1947, there have been over 200 African American managers, players and coaches that have gone through the major league ranks.

The first asian player to make their break was Masanori Murakami, a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants in 1964. Since then, it has only been in the past two decades that teams and scouts have realized the untapped potential of Asian countries.

These players are just a glimpse of the future of MLB, and with scouts turning their heads more and more toward Asian countries, it'd be hard to not see more and more position players making their debut in the states.