The two-game Beijing spring training series between Major League Baseball’s San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers ended this weekend with a 3-3 tie on Saturday and a 6-3 Padres’ win on Sunday. The teams played to a not-quite-full house in Wukesong Stadium, the 12,000-seat venue that will host Olympic baseball in August.
The double header had a little bit of everything you’d expect from a preseason major league competition—hot dogs, beer, some sloppy plays and a rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” sung by a few American fans called down to the field during the seventh inning stretch. Beijing even had unseasonably good baseball weather—sunny skies both days and a high temperature Sunday of 17 degrees Celsius (63 degrees Fahrenheit).
Does Baseball Have A Shot?
The series is part of MLB’s efforts to create a market for the game in China, and Dodgers manager Joe Torre and MLB commissioner Bud Selig both waxed optimistic about the future of baseball in China.
“I have no doubt in my mind that in a decade, baseball will be big in China,” MLB.com quotes Selig as saying. In reality, the game’s future here isn’t so certain and MLB still has a long way to go to even come close to the success that the NBA has had with basketball. That was evidenced by the below-capacity attendance in an easily accessible stadium in a city of 15 million people.
“I think it would take a while to make baseball work in China,” said Jeffrey Cheung, a Beijing resident from Hong Kong. “First you have to have some parks and get kids playing, and get some good players in college, and then maybe put together a decent national team.”
Cheung has been a baseball fan since he was first introduced to it as a college student in Pennsylvania. He said that he would like to be involved in growing the game in China, but that any efforts will face big challenges in one key area—getting facilities built. “If you spend the money to build a stadium and no one plays in it, it is very obvious and embarrassing to the government,” he said. Unlike a basketball gymnasium, a baseball diamond can’t be used for much other than the game it’s intended for.
It also it seemed the MLB missed some opportunities this weekend to make the game relatable to an audience that knows little about it. The electronic scoreboard had no Chinese on it (except for the characters Zhongguo Sai – China Competition—on the series logo). The teams’ names, the statistics and short tutorials about some baseball terms were all displayed in English. And while everyone received a program and a set of noisemakers on entering, the program lacked rosters and statistics.
And much to the chagrin of some American fans, vendors ran out of hot dogs before the game even started on Sunday, and on Saturday they ran out of both hot dogs and beer before the seventh inning stretch.
A Fan is Born
One local won over by his first day at the ballpark was eight-year-old Beijinger Li Yeping, who had an experience that would be a dream come true for many kids his age back in Los Angeles. When Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp threw a ball up into the stands, a cameraman caught it and gave it to Li. The boy later picked up a ball that flew out of the bullpen. When he went to the Dodgers dugout to get the balls autographed, Xavier Paul passed the smiling kid a Louisville Slugger. Altogether, Li came away from the game with two autographed balls, a bat and a player’s batting glove—not a bad haul for your first baseball game.
“He’s really lucky today,” said Li’s mother, Xu Jingli, who was at the game with Li and his father. The family of sports fans also attended a softball tournament in Beijing last year. Xu said the family knew the rules of the game, but Li has still never played it. On Sunday, an American fan at the game taught him to swing his new bat, but he won’t likely have any pitches to swing at soon.
Worth the Trip
While one new fan was created, a veteran demonstrated the irrational behavior of the extremely dedicated. Native Southern Californian Richard Marcotte flew to Beijing from his home in Kentucky just to see the game. He carried a Dodgers blue foam #1 finger and a homemade sign that read “#1 LA Fan.” Marcotte arrived in time for the seventh inning of the Saturday game, and was booked on a flight back home on Monday.
“I’ve got a really nice wife who let me come out here,” he said. “Especially with a four-year-old and a six-year-old at home,”
Ironically, Marcotte came to the Beijing game in part because he couldn’t get a ticket to the Dodgers’ sold-out pre-season game against the Boston Red Sox in the 90,000-seat Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Since he works for a subsidiary of Delta Airlines, his flight to Tokyo was free, and his Tokyo-Beijing flight cost him about $200 roundtrip.
“My ticket today cost about $13,” he said. “The whole thing was cheaper for me than if I’d gone to L.A. to see them play, although it did take up a couple more days.” Marcotte’s only sightseeing in the capital city was a trip to the Forbidden City Sunday.
Marcotte added that his homemade sign caused a small security stir. Event security officials brought an English-speaking interpreter to find out the meaning of “#1 LA Fan from Kentucky,” ostensibly to make sure that his sign didn’t include any references to sensitive issues. That’s one concern that could get interesting when millions of foreigners come to Beijing in August to root for their home teams.
Overall, the games were at least a start for MLB’s overtures to China. Maybe next time the league brings a game here, the local kids lining up for the pre-game batting cages will know how to swing a bat.
Los Angeles Dodgers’ China Series 2008 Web site
A Danwei.com story about security shenanigans during Saturday’s game.
Tags: baseball, Beijing, Dodgers, MLB, Padres, Wukesong