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A group of teenage Chinese baseball prospects attend a training session at the MLB Development Center in Wuxi. Provided to China Daily
Despite being dropped from the Olympics, baseball has enjoyed strong development in China, as well as the rest of Asia, over the past decade.
Major League Baseball has made great efforts to popularize the game in the region while also helping Asian teams get stronger on the international stage.
Over the past five years, Rick Dell, director of baseball development in Asia for MLB, and his colleagues, have been promoting the sport and have made significant progress.
"When you try to develop a new sport in a country, it is always hard to imitate other models. That is the major challenge," Dell said in his small office in Beijing.
"There isn't a standardized game development menu suitable for everywhere. Whenever we begin to work on baseball development in a new country, we simply roll up our sleeves, get our feet wet and do what we know from past experience and make the necessary adjustments."
Dell has devoted most of his life to baseball, half of it - 27 years - spent coaching at the College of New Jersey. He worked in the off -season as one of MLB's few ambassadors to Asia before becoming a full-time employee in 2007.
For several decades, South Korea, Japan and Chinese Taipei have been widely regarded as the Asian baseball powerhouses. Due to the efforts of Dell and his workmates over the past five years, China has also emerged and other countries such as Thailand and the Philippines have made great strides as well.
MLB has opened two development centers in Jiangsu province.
"The ultimate goal is to cultivate a local baseball superstar to attract millions of fans and further create business opportunities in China," said Dell.
Inspired by basketball's Jeremy Lin, Dell has launched a program called "Chinsanity", which is designed to encourage the development center players to find a balance between the baseball diamond and the classroom.
Another program called "Independent Packets" has also been set up to help local clubs in China by providing equipment and coaching.
"More and more grass-root baseball programs have been cropping up all over Asia", said Dell, pointing to dots on a development map. "Currently we are helping programs in Beijing, Dongguan, Xining, Xiamen, you name them. These clubs are independent. MLB is doing everything we can to help them sustain and grow."
Besides the development centers and independent clubs, many other projects, like the MLB PLAY BALL! program, have also kicked off. Baseball grounds in China have boomed since the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Ten top-notch baseball facilities have been built in Beijing, Nanjing, Xiamen, Changzhou, Wuxi and Xishuangbanna, of Yunnan province, and Guangdong.
"Baseball is continually growing in Asia, especially in China. We still need to do what we have been doing - developing good baseball players, sending them to universities, and eventually sending the cream of the crop to Major League Baseball," Dell said.
(China Daily 12/29/2012 page16)