According to anonymous MLB officials, the American professional baseball league is making plans to send a few teams to Beijing to play exhibition games during their pre-season spring training. The games would be held in March, five months before the start of the 2008 Olympics, and take place at Beijing’s Wukesong Field, a small stadium with a capacity of 15,000 that will host the Olympiad’s baseball events.
The Beijing games are a part of an ongoing effort by Major League Baseball International to expand baseball’s popularity beyond its current sphere of influence. The fact that news of the games follows the announcement at the IOC’s July meeting that baseball will be dropped from the line-up of sports for the 2012 London Olympics is an eerie coincidence. Actually, over the past few years, the MLB has been expanding its promotion of the sport into Africa and Asia by sending money, equipment and personnel to organize training camps for up-and-coming talent and support existing baseball leagues abroad. The Major League is even putting plans in place to move into Cuba in case of a possible Chinese-style “reform and opening” when Fidel Castro hands power over to his successor.
In China, the MLB worked with the China Baseball Association to run the first ever China Baseball Academy last August. The academy for young Chinese baseball talent took place in Wuxi, Jiangsu, and a documentary about the camp was produced and put on Youtube. The Major League has invested heavily in the Chinese Baseball League (CBL), supplying the teams with equipment and flying them abroad to play in competitive American tournaments. The MLB also sent two experienced coaches to Guangzhou to work with China’s national team in preparation for the 2008 Olympics.
Finally, a paragraph from the original AP article lets slip that:
The Yankees were among the team initially interested played in China but decided they would rather wait for regular-season games to be played there.
Does this mean that we will see a season opener in Beijing sometime soon? The Red Sox and A’s will kick off their 2008 season in Tokyo next year, so keep your ears open for what could be an Asian double-whammy.
All of this to say that Shanghaiist has already jotted down the date in our Google Calendar and expect to be making a weekend trip up to Beijing sometime in late March. Go Dodgers!
Photo of the Beijing 2007 Int’l Baseball Invitational by sabrisabri.