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Field of dreams a big hit in tiny village

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2019-06-10 09:22
Xujiadai, a village in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, boasts a brand new baseball field, which opened last year at a cost of 8 million yuan ($1.15 million). SHI FUTIAN/CHINA DAILY

While baseball's popularity continues to grow nationwide, participation in the sport remains largely confined to China's major urban centers.

Xujiadai, a small village of around 5,000 residents in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, is a shining exception.

Last year the village spent 8 million yuan ($1.15 million) to construct its own baseball facility, and Xujiadai's pride and joy has already hosted a provincial-level junior competition as a prelude to bringing in international tournaments.

For now, the 24,000 square meter site serves as the training base for 10 local primary and middle schools.

Coaches from Beijing were hired to establish Zhejiang's first village baseball team, which totals around 50 kids.

"I only watched baseball in cartoons before, so I could not believe that I could sign up to play for a team here," said Fan Jiafeng, a local fourth-grader.

"I signed up immediately and thought it was really cool, but after a while the training became not so easy. My leg hurt and I cried. My mom asked me if I wanted to quit, but I said no."

Coach Li Xuecheng has grown accustomed to the tears.

"We are not here to play around; we train about three hours after school from Monday to Friday," said Li, a Beijing native and graduate of one of the three Major League Baseball Development Centers in China.

"Training continues on weekends. Only through hard training can the kids from the village hope to have opportunities to compete in this sport.

"Baseball is still in its infancy in China. Outside the major cities, the development of junior baseball in rural and urban areas is pretty much at the same level."

China's burgeoning baseball talent will flock to Xujiadai over the coming months, with the village set to host a national mini championship for under-6s to under-9s in July, followed by a national under-10 championship later in the year.

"Since we opened the baseball field, we have been seeking opportunities to organize high-level junior competitions," said Liu Jianqun, the head of the village. "Our little village will become a magnet for baseball-mad kids.

"Many baseball clubs have also contacted us. The level of interest in our village is unprecedented.

"Compared to other sports such as basketball and soccer, baseball is still a very young sport in China, so it's an opportunity for us.

"Baseball has become the calling card of our village. After building the field, we facilitated the addition of baseball onto the curricula of six schools in the area."

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