Now playing at the Wukesong Stadium, the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers??
OK, spit out the first thing that comes into your mind when I say baseball in the Far East.... Daisuke Matsuzaka.... Ichiro Suzuki...... Hideki Matsui...... right? Just a few of the names that'll pop right up. Notice a trend? All from the land of the rising sun.
Now name a MLB player from China....... drawing a blank? So am I...
So that is why this weekend was a momentous past few days in Beijing, China for reasons completely unrelated to the Summer Olympics.
Baseball has always faced adversity in China. In the 1960s, Communist Leader Mao Zedong banned the game because it had Western roots and the sport has struggled to gain mainstream interest in the country since his death in 1976. This is in opposition to the cult like following baseball has in Japan ever since American Professor at the University of Tokyo, Horace Wilson introduced the game in 1872.
Arguably the greatest reason that baseball hasn't caught on yet in the land of 1.5 billion, is that they don't have a good reason to get excited about it.... or to be more accurate, no one to get excited about.
Ichiro Suzuki single-handedly brought baseball to the entire country of Japan in 2001.
Yao Ming made 3 pointers and the crossover household terms to 1.5 billion people in 2002.
Chien-Ming Wang brought the sinker-ball and strikeout to the dinner table as conversation topics for every family in Taiwan.
Who will bring baseball to China and when? The MLB is looking to answer that question starting with this past weekend. The LA Dodgers and San Diego Padres played a 2 game series this past weekend in Beijing's Wukesong Stadium. The Friday night game was played to a 3-3 tie and the Padres beat the Dodgers 6-3 on Saturday night. But more important than the score of the two games was the fact that this was the first American Major League game in China... ever. Exhibition games are common place in Japan with the Boston Red Sox season opener to be held in Japan over the venerable Fenway Park.
Who of China's young athletes will make the jump and bring back the passion of baseball?