|12-24-2001, 12:54 AM||#1|
Baseball in Asian countries
Since this article discusses baseball in China, I'd be interested to also know of how it's played in Japan and other nations as well. Anything about how MLB acquires FA's from Japan (like Suzuki), how MLB players' contracts are purchased by Japanese teams, I'd think would be very appropriate here.
Here goes nuthin' (1 of 2):
Fine China -- Nation of a billion takes best swing at baseball
A long way from sea level and ever farther from New Jersey, Rick Dell is standing on a ballfield in the central Chinese city of Chengdu, not quite fathoming what he is seeing.
Chengdu is famous for its pandas, but what is wowing Rick Dell is its pitchers. Surrounded by 47 Chinese ballplayers, most of them kids who didn't know a seam from a shortstop a few years earlier, Dell is admiring the long-limbed fluidity, the mechanical soundness, of one pitcher after another.
By the time he is done, Dell, the coordinator of game development in Asia and the Pacific for Major League Baseball International, figures he's seen 20 players who could play collegiately in the U.S.
He also figures he's seen the leading edge of what many baseball insiders believe will amount to a hardball revolution. "It's almost beyond comprehension that the Chinese players could be as far advanced as they are after playing the game for such a short time," says Dell, whose day job is as baseball coach at the College of New Jersey in Trenton. "When they start playing at 8 years old instead of at 15, I think you are going to see a major impact."
Leon Lee, who played in Japan for 10 years and is now the Chicago Cubs' Far East scouting director, puts it a different way. "China is going to be the next huge market for baseball players," he says. "There are going to be some incredible players coming out of China pretty soon."
While Major League Baseball engages in the unpleasant business of contraction on this side of the world, the game is about to explode on the other side. With the considerable carrot of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing as their motivation — "Their goal is to win a bronze medal," says Jim Small, VP for MLB International — the Chinese Baseball Association has initiated what amounts to a seven-year crash course in baseball, a movement that Small and others believe will take the ever-deepening Asian imprint on the big leagues to another level entirely.
All over China, youth programs are being assembled. Coaches are being recruited. Children are being selected and steered to the game in the state sport-school system. Outside a sports school in Shanghai, the seaport city that is China's largest metropolis (population 12.9 million), there's even a shiny new steel statue that depicts a baseball hitter, alongside a soccer player and a track athlete.
But the most telling — and ambitious — evidence of baseball's emergence will come this March, when the world's newest professional league — the Chinese Baseball League (CBL) — is scheduled to be rolled out in four cities.
"This is something that Chinese people have been waiting for for many years," says Yang Jie, a top official in the new league, speaking via interpreter in an interview from the CBL offices in Beijing. "Especially now with the Olympics coming, people want to see baseball. Usually we are watching baseball from the major leagues on TV. Now we will be able to watch our own baseball teams playing, and that will be exciting."
Virtually none of China's 1.3 billion people know about the league yet; there hasn't been a word about it in the Chinese media. The government's Ministry of Sport, which is presiding over the launch through its Chinese Baseball Association, is keeping the league under wraps until its debut press conference early next year. Officials hope the embargo will make for maximum splash when they introduce the Beijing Tigers, Guangdong Lightning, Tianjian Lions and Shanghai Golden Eagles. Each team will play 18 games in the first season, staying in each of the four cities for three weeks at a time. All games will be played from Thursday to Sunday. The grand opener is planned for March 28, the Golden Eagles vs. the Lightning, in Guangdong's cozy, new 2,500-seat park, tucked neatly into the cityscape.
To further stoke interest in the sport, a new feature film, "Baseball Boy," will be shown at the league's official unveiling in three weeks. It's about a young boy who loves baseball and convinces his father, a lifelong soccer fanatic, to let him play. Games will be telecast on CCTV, the world's largest television network, as well as on local outlets.
"It's like being on ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN combined," says Tom McCarthy, a Boston product and VP for World Sport Group, the marketing partner of the CBL.
China's history of baseball actually dates to the 19th century. The sport was sufficiently established by 1912 to draw mention in Baseball Magazine, which wrote of "the intense interest lately aroused in the Dragon Empire for ... baseball." In 1934, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig led a big-league barnstorming team to Shanghai. The game continued to be played in passionate pockets until the early 1960s, when it was banned, along with all other things Western, during the Cultural Revolution.
The sport was re-introduced in 1976, though it still lags far behind soccer and basketball in popularity. A Chinese baseball official estimates that 10,000 people play the game in the entire country.
A sort of baseball Johnny Appleseed, Dell's mission is to increase that number — and it's working. Though no firm figures are available, Yang Jie says, "The sport is growing rapidly." Dell has spent the past two summers in China, teaching the game and passing on his love for it. He'll make his third trip next summer, when he heads to Guangdong with a team of eight college and high school coaches. Dell says an acute shortage of knowledgeable coaches, and a dearth of game experience, are the biggest obstacles Chinese ballplayers have to overcome.
He believes the establishment of the pro league will be an immense boost. The plan is to expand the league to 10 cities within a few years. Baseball will finally begin to be woven into the fabric of daily life.
"You have to have people for kids to emulate," Dell says. "That's why soccer didn't develop in this country for so long, because there weren't people to look up to, something to shoot for. Having a pro league makes the game perpetuate itself." Operating in a Communist country, the CBL is not your customary professional venture. The league is owned by the state, the teams by the local sports commissions that run them. Players will likely be paid comparably to pro basketball players (about $300-$600 monthly), which doesn't put them in Jason Giambi's tax bracket, but makes them quite well off in a nation where the annual per capita income is less than $1,000.
McCarthy's World Sport Group, which has worked extensively on the startup, has lined up some six sponsors; the firm paid a fee to the league and gets a share of the proceeds. McCarthy says the league has guaranteed to sponsors that the stadiums — all of them are between 2,000 and 5,000 seats — will play to 70% capacity the first year. With the Olympics coming, the TV exposure and the country's staggering wealth of athletic talent, he has no doubt about the CBL's viability, or its ultimate profitability, once the game catches on and bigger stadiums are built.
"It's a once in a lifetime experience to launch a baseball league in the biggest country in the world," McCarthy says. "We're not viewing this as a minor league for other professional baseball leagues. China is the biggest market there is. The economy keeps growing and growing. There's money here, and there are players here. I think in time you'll see players from other countries wanting to come to China to play."
Nobody seems to think such forecasts are misplaced. The Cubs' Lee believes there will be Chinese players all over pro ball in the U.S. in the not-distant future. Adds Dell, "In 20 years I don't think it will be uncommon to have Chinese players on major league rosters. And when you consider the population base they have, they could, down the road, be as prominent in baseball as the U.S., Japan, Taiwan or the Latin American countries."
The paucity of game experience, for now, still makes the game go too fast for even the best Chinese ballplayers. Dell says it's common to see guys get panicky, to rush their movements. That will subside the more they play. It shouldn't take long. Dell was stunned when he introduced a group of pitchers in Chengdu to the circle changeup and they were throwing it effectively three days later.
The best players in China's 11 provincial programs practice four hours a day, six days a week. There is a new exchange program with Cuba. MLB International is reaching out more and more, sending coaches, instructional materials, baseball-centered curriculum programs for schools.
Historically quick athletic learners, the Chinese have produced world-class athletes in diving, swimming and gymnastics, among other sports, with an astonishingly brief period of incubation.
Why should baseball be any different?
It is a heady and hectic time on baseball's newest frontier. On Tiyuguan Rd. on the outskirts of Beijing, across town from Tiananmen Square, Yang Jie and the entire staff of the Chinese Baseball Association are busy preparing for the launch, pressing on with the national crash-course in baseball.
"From now until the Olympic Games we have seven years to go," Yang says. "We have a long time to improve. With the league set up, we will have more games, and we will gain more experience. I believe people will see that China will have a very good result in baseball."
|12-24-2001, 12:55 AM||#2|
[continuation of above (2 of 2)]
M's Signing Angers China
When pro baseball debuts in China this March, Wang Chao, one of the nation's top pitching prospects, will not be on any of the rosters.
The 16-year-old Wang signed last summer with the Seattle Mariners, a deal that made him the first Chinese player to join a major league organization — and made the Mariners club non grata in the world's biggest country.
The Chinese Baseball Association has written a letter to Major League Baseball stating that Bob Williams, the scout who signed Wang, is no longer welcome.
"(Wang) has been stolen," says Yang Jie, one of the presiding CBA officials. "Seattle took him away, without any permission. We are really furious about that. Seattle should have come to us to discuss the issue and they have not done that.
The Mariners maintain they've done nothing wrong. MLB rules require only that a player be at least 161/2 years of age and not be under contract to any other team.
"We went through every hoop there possibly was," Ted Heid, the club's director of Pacific Rim Operations, told the local media after the signing. "The player's parents were involved, the academy (he attended) — we followed all of the directions." Mariners officials did not respond to messages seeking additional comment last week.
The dispute centers on Wang's contractual status. The Mariners claim the youngster and his family told them he was free to sign. Yang says that Wang, whose mother was a world-class fastpitch softball centerfielder, has a contract with a Beijing club team and is registered with the CBA.
Says VP Jim Small of MLB International, "It was a misstep that came with good intentions. The Mariners thought they were following proper procedures. They had been assured by the player's family that he was not under contract and that no further approval was necessary.
"That was not the case."
While not blaming the Mariners, one baseball executive who requested anonymity says, "In the competition to get players, some teams might not necessarily ask all the questions they need to ask."
Small hand-delivered a letter of apology from MLB to Chinese officials at a meeting on Sept. 11, of all days, expressing hope that MLB and the CBA could work out a protocol agreement to prevent the situation from happening again. Small will return to China early next year to finalize the process.
Officials in both the CBA and MLB say their relationship so far has been very positive. Yang knows the best way to ready players for the 2008 Olympics is getting them to the States to play.
Wang reportedly showed considerable promise during the Mariners' fall instructional camp in Peoria, Ariz.
"I'm very impressed by him," Mariners pitching coach Bryan Price told reporters. "He's got athleticism, he's got size and he's got arm strength, and that's three things we look for in a pitcher."
|12-25-2001, 03:13 PM||#3|
Not quite A-Rod money: $4.7 million sets Japanese record
December 25, 2001
TOKYO -- Hideki Matsui became the highest-paid player in Japanese baseball history, signing a one-year, $4.7 million contract Tuesday.
Matsui, an outfielder for the Yomiuri Giants, surpassed the mark set by Ichiro Suzuki, now with the Seattle Mariners and the American League MVP in 2001. Suzuki earned $4 million with the Orix BlueWave in 2000.
In the major leagues, Alex Rodriguez of the Texas Rangers is the salary leader with a $252 million contract for 10 years.
Matsui led the Central League this season with a .333 average and had 36 homers and 104 RBIs. He reportedly turned down a five-year deal.
Matsui will be eligible for free agency after the 2002 season and might pursue a career in the major leagues.
"I'll think about that when the time comes," said Matsui, when asked if he intends to follow the path of such Japanese stars as Suzuki and Tsuyoshi Shinjo.
Kintetsu outfielder Tuffy Rhodes, who equaled Sadaharu Oh's home run record this season with 55, has agreed to a contract with the Buffaloes. They reportedly offered him $4 million over two years.
A former major-leaguer, Rhodes hit .327 this season with 131 RBIs, helping the Buffaloes to their first Pacific League pennant in 12 years. He was chosen the league MVP in October.
Also, the Hanshin Tigers signed former San Diego Padres infielder George Arias, who left Orix after the 2001 season. The Tigers released former Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Ivan Cruz.
Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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