No longer a sleeping giant shrouded in secrecy, China is a global economic force and will be hosting the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing in August.
For baseball to be part of that change in China's relationship specifically with the U.S. is something representatives from both clubs embrace. When the NL West meets the Far East this week, the feeling of interest and newfound understanding will be mutual."I think it's such an exciting time knowing that the Olympics will be here in August -- baseball obviously will be a part of those Olympics -- and for the young people of China to witness this, starting with our two games," Torre said when he visited Beijing in January to help announce the series. Said Padres vice president Dave Winfield at that same press conference, addressing the Chinese people with his statement: "We're very pleased to be the first Major League Baseball teams to play in China, and hopefully we can help you develop a love for the game as we love it in the United States." Of course, that's the point of it all. This is a chance for baseball to spread its wings even further as the internationalization of the game continues to grow. Including this year's season-opening series between the Red Sox and A's in Tokyo later in March, baseball has extended its outreach to countries around the globe.
|March 13||Padres visit Great Wall of China|
|March 14||Padres hold youth clinic at Fengtai School|
Teams work out at Wukesong Stadium
Dodgers visit Great Wall of China
|March 15||Dodgers vs. Padres, 1:07 a.m. ET|
|March 16||Padres vs. Dodgers, 1:07 a.m. ET|
Clubs fly back to U.S. after game
|Beijing is 12 hours ahead of ET.|
Signing on the dotted line
|Since 2001, five Chinese players have signed contracts with Major League teams.|
|Liu Kai||Left-handed Pitcher||Yankees|
|Chao Wang||Right-handed Pitcher||Mariners|
Clearly, the players, coaches and executives are taking a business trip. They're ambassadors. The Padres have been active in the internationalization of baseball for years, notably with the first regular-season series outside the U.S. or Canada, a three-game meeting with the Mets in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1996. "I think what we've tried to do over the last several years is give the Padres a little higher visibility, not only in baseball but throughout the United States and overseas," Padres CEO Sandy Alderson said. "In order to do that, we've tried to play better baseball, put a good product on the field, but we've explored bringing events to San Diego, the World Baseball Classic and even non-baseball events like the rugby tournament we had. "We want to promote the Padres as an organization and as a brand if you will and anything we can do is of a historic nature adds to that and helps us grow our history. It's easy for the Yankees and Red Sox who already have name recognition and the connotation of excellence and success. For us, we need to keep working at it. This is one of those events that could contribute to our reputation." For the Dodgers, it's another step in what has been a long-standing tradition of reaching out beyond borders. "If China puts its mind to it and decides to embrace professional baseball, we know it will be a success," Dodgers owner Frank McCourt said. "To be part of that and to build a bridge from America to China, I think is very consistent with the history of this ballclub. It's done the same in Japan, in Taiwan, in Latin America. "Part of what makes the Dodgers a worldwide brand is this organization has always embraced bringing baseball all over the world because of the love of the game. It's a very proud part of our heritage and something that is incumbent upon us to continue." Indeed, that's at the heart of the trip from Major League Baseball's perspective as well, according to Selig, for whom the internationalization is a large part of his legacy. "We have to go everywhere. And we will; we will," he said. By going to China this week, MLB is taking to a new level a mission that has been in the works for years. MLB signed a development agreement with the Chinese Baseball Association in November 2003, opening the door to signing players from China; former players Jim Lefebvre and Bruce Hurst have acted as manager and coach, respectively, of the Chinese National Team; and MLB has begun numerous youth and community efforts in China, with support coming from Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, among others. MLB has planted its flag, as it were, with an office in Beijing, and this week's trip is a grand way to wave it. When Major League Baseball officially introduces itself to China this week, face to face and with the crack of the bat filling the air of Wukesong Stadium, the sport will be going where really no American sport has gone before, at least not to this degree. "It's quite an experience, to say the least," Selig said. "I'm thrilled with it. So this is great. This is history in the making. Someday I'll look back on all this and say, 'It was great to go for the first time.' "
John Schlegel is executive editor for the West Divisions for MLB.com. MLB.com reporters Barry Bloom, Corey Brock and Ken Gurnick contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.