MLB games educate, exhilarate

By Yu Yilei (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-03-17 10:29

For Beijing resident Zhang Zhengning, a 29-year-old engineer at China Academy of Space Technology, the first glimpse of baseball was almost as complicated as the space shuttles he deals with everyday.

Los Angeles Dodgers' Kevin Howard (L) collides with San Diego Padres' Brian Myrow during their second game in the 2008 Major League Baseball (MLB) China Series at Wukesong Baseball Field in Beijing March 16, 2008. San Diego Padres beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-3. [Agencies] 

"Frankly speaking, I knew little about baseball before I came here," smiled Zhang, who traveled more than an hour to west Beijing's Wukesong Baseball Field on Sunday for the second game of the MLB China Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres.

But before long Zhang started to understand the game known in China as bangqiu ("stick ball"). After only a few innings of careful observation - and a perusal of the rules of the game, which were printed in the programs - he started to understand.

When the Padres tied the game on Scott Hairston's two-run double to left field in the fifth inning, Zhang jumped from his seat, applauding and screaming, and then proudly explained to his wife and friends why the Padres scored the runs.

"Watching today's game is a great experience for me," Zhang said. "I feel I am more educated about baseball. I really enjoy it."

Zhang was one of nearly 12,000 fans who watched yesterday's MLB China game. In the first game on Saturday, 12,224 curious fans swarmed to the stadium.

Despite the slight drop in numbers, both the Dodgers and the Padres agreed yesterday's was a better crowd.

"Fans were really into it and understood it more than we thought. I think people in China really appreciate the game," said Trevor Hoffman, the Padres' star closer.

"Fans were great - I saw guys dancing between innings," added Padres second baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who had three hits yesterday.

All the fans seemed to be having a great time during both games - they danced, tried to sing along with "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh inning stretch, even did The Wave throughout the game.

But fans obviously took Sunday's game more seriously - at one point during the fourth inning, fans stopped mid-Wave when the Padres scored two runs, a stark difference from Saturday's crowd, which seemed more concerned with their Wave duties than anything happening on the field.

"Yesterday was great and today was better," said Padres manager Bud Black. "All in all, it was a good day for baseball."

His counterpart, Dodgers manager Joe Torre, called the fans "the most fun part" in his trip to China.

"Everyone is so cordial. People can't do enough for you and I have seen a lot of friendly faces," he said.

And the fans were rewarded for their patience yesterday, watching the Padres rally to win the game 6-3 despite trailing for the first three innings. Saturday's game saw the teams finish in a 3-3 tie, something rarely seen in the game of baseball.

But the overall success of the weekend was very satisfying for MLB, which hopes to bring baseball back to China sometime soon.

"I think it exceeded our expectations," said MLB Asia vice-president Jim Small.

"The fans were engaged, entertained. That's what we wanted. We want to leave an impression on the Chinese people."


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