In search of a Yao with a bat
Updated: 2011-09-21 07:52
By Yang Xinwei (China Daily)
Paul Archey (left), MLB senior vice-president, Charlie Monfort (center), owner of the Colorado Rockies, and Rick Dell, MLB's director of Asian Development in China, play softball with students at Beijing Yucai School. The school is home to MLB's new development center, designed to find and develop potential big-league players. [Photo provided to China Daily]
MLB officials have high hopes as a second development center opens its doors to young Chinese baseballers in Jiangsu province, Yang Xinwei reports
Major League Baseball (MLB) opened its second development center in China earlier this month. After establishing its first center in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, two years ago, MLB built a second base in Changzhou, an industrial city just 40 kilometers away in the same province.
"Definitely, there will be a Yao Ming of baseball," said Paul Archey, MLB's senior vice-president in charge of international business operations. "But right now I do not have the timeline for that. As you can see, some of the best high school players in the US and even minor league players may not even make it to MLB. But I am confident that (Yao Ming of baseball) will happen, but could it be in two, three or 10 years, I don't know."
The center is located at Beijiao Middle School in Changzhou city in the eastern China province. It will provide training for middle school students within an academic school environment.
"One of the missions of MLB and the visions we have is to grow the game, to promote the game of baseball, which I think is the greatest game in the world," said Archey, whose entourage included Charlie Monfort, owner of the Colorado Rockies franchise, Jim Small, vice-president of MLB Asia, and Leon Xie, managing director of MLB China.
The Changzhou development center is a joint effort between MLB and the Rockies, so it was Monfort who threw the ceremonial first pitch to open the center.
Monfort hopes one day baseball prodigies from the center, as well those in Wuxi, will play in the big leagues for his club and other teams.
"I own the Colorado Rockies, but I'm really speaking on behalf of the other 29 owners. I hope to be able to do whatever I can for baseball and China to build the game here, and ultimately that will benefit everybody," said Monfort.
Like the first one in Wuxi, the center has an international team of baseball instructors. Students will receive baseball training and lessons in English in addition to receiving an excellent academic education.
The Changzhou center will recruit about 20 players a year from middle schools all over the mainland. It will offer them a normal campus life while preparing them for a professional career. Players will study and live like other students - the difference will be the hours they spend after school with coaches.
Archey said he hopes players will have numerous career opportunities - and that includes playing baseball professionally.
"You have training facilities here that are second to none - it's a dream well in reach," Archey told students, adding that nearly 30 percent of MLB players are foreign born.
The two MLB centers share the same goal - finding a global baseball superstar to attract hundreds of millions of fans and create a multi-billion yuan market. They are looking for the sport's equivalent of basketball superstar Yao.
"From what I saw in the two days in China (in Changzhou and at the Beijing Yucai School), the Chinese kids' enthusiasm for baseball, I can say we're very much optimistic," Archey said. "Baseball's growth in China is on the right track, and if we do our job right, that will happen."
"They rival the players in the US in the same age group," Monfort said. "We are dedicated to this market. We will not only promote the game of baseball in China but also maintain an excellent partnership with China."
Small is thinking big about baseball in China.
"I think baseball is perfect fit with the Chinese culture. I am very optimistic about the sport in China. My feeling is it's only a matter of time before baseball will be as popular as ping-pong and badminton."
The biggest challenge, in Small's eyes, is to share the game of baseball with as many people as possible in China. "To make baseball a Chinese sport is our goal," he said.
"MLB played a crucial role in promoting baseball in China. Two years after the training center in Wuxi was established, young players improved a lot in their skills and had great performances in international games," said Shen Wei, secretary-general of the Chinese Baseball Association.
"I believe the development center in Changzhou will attract and help provide more young talent for baseball in China," Shen said.
In 2008, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres met in the first MLB games played in China during spring training. The games helped increase the popularity of the sport in China.
MLB launched Play Ball! - a youth baseball program - in Chinese elementary schools and middle schools in 2007. To date, the program has provided training to more than 120 schools.