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Another swing at success

Updated : 2019-08-21
By He Chenyu and Wei Qiulin in Wuxi, Jiangsu province (China Daily)

Facing an 0-2 count, rebooted league confident this version will be a hit

The country's most peripheral pro sport turned over a new leaf with last week's launch of the revamped China National Baseball League in Tianjin.

Founded in 2002, the league endured a series of economic challenges before suspending operations in 2011. It was reborn in 2014 but folded again three years later.

Now featuring teams in Tianjin, Beijing, Guangdong and Jiangsu, the new CNBL is finally on a solid footing after forging a strategic partnership with Major League Baseball in the US.

Another swing at success

The rebranded China National Baseball League kicked off in Tianjin on Aug 15, with the Tianjin Lions defeating the Beijing Tigers 3-2 and Jiangsu Huge Horse topping the Guangdong Leopards 11-8 in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, on Aug 16. [Photo by Xiao Da/China Daily]

MLB is the oldest major pro sports league in North America, with 30 teams each playing 162 regular-season games to qualify for a four-round postseason that culminates in the World Series.

The relaunch of the CNBL marks a milestone in domestic baseball history and will help ignite development of the game here, said league commissioner Qin Xiaowen.

Wang Aiping, coach of the Guangdong Leopards, echoed that sentiment.

"Over the past 17 years I have witnessed the development of Chinese baseball which started with prosperity and exuberance, then endured some rough spots before finally leading to today's new start," Wang said.

"Baseball developed in the 'system' in China, which put much of its focus on the Olympics. When the sport was taken out of the Games after Beijing 2008, it was a major setback but baseball will return to the Tokyo Olympics next year, which is a big boost for us."

Wang said the league's reboot could not have been possible without the dedication and hard work of every Chinese player, adding: "A growing number of Chinese are showing interest in the game, especially in schools. I think that will continue, and more people will become involved."

The players are equally enthused.

"I was looking forward to the start of the professional tournament," said Du Xiaolei, who helped the Jiangsu Huge Horse beat the Guangdong Leopards 11-8 before an appreciative crowd of around 3,000 in Wuxi on Aug 16. "It is the moment that an athlete can show his value, and we need more such opportunities."

The 29-year-old said he wasn't satisfied with his initial performance, but he's confident of improving as the season plays out.

"As a professional player, I hope to keep playing baseball at a high level and to contribute to its development in China," he added.

The CNBL season will see each of the four teams play 36 games in a balanced home-and-away schedule over seven weeks.

The top two teams will clash in a best-of-five championship final in late October.

According to Chinese Baseball Association statistics, the number of people engaged in the sport here has topped 1 million, largely attributable to a current baseball craze in schools.

"There's been a boom in Chinese teenagers playing the game in recent years, with a number of leagues and tournaments being launched from primary schools to high schools," said Ma Zhenxin, GM of Jiangsu Huge Horse.

He also noted that a number of private clubs have sprung up, including more than 30 in Nanjing, Changzhou, Yangzhou, Wuxi, Suzhou and other cities in Jiangsu province.

At the grassroots level, Ma said Jiangsu Huge Horse has spared no effort to deepen its talent pool.

"I learned to play baseball more than 10 years ago, when I was in primary school," said Chen Lei, a local university graduate and a baseball enthusiast.

"The new CNBL is great for the game, and I'm convinced that more Chinese will participate in the sport in the future."

Contact the writer at hechenyu@chinadaily.com.cn

Another swing at success

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