Gary Garland / the japanese insider
WHATEVER LANGUAGE YOU SPEAK IT'S BASEBALL
by Gary Garland
China Pro League to Start in June 2003
According to Sankei Sports, with an eye to the 2008 Olympics, mainland China is going to inaugurate its first professional league on March 28, 2003 in hopes of developing a national team good enough to make it to the top four in the olympic baseball tournament. The actual regular season will run from June to August.
Sankei reveals that baseball has been played in China in the 1960's, where over 40 teams competed across the country, many of them made up of members of the People's Liberation Army. However, the Cultural Revolution reportedly put an end to the Chinese nines.
Recently, though, baseball has seen a resurgence in the Communist state, with over 100 elementary and junior high schools holding hardball matches in the last decade.
Guangxhou, Shanghai, Beijing and Tientsin are the four cities that will host pro clubs, with the Tientsin bunch already being touted as the strongest of the lot. However, the manager of Tientsin admits that their level of play is about that of the Japanese industrial leagues and slightly below that of the Taiwanese pro leaguers.
Whatever the case may be, the squads will play four times a week, with the other three days given over to promoting the game by having the players visit elementary and junior high schools.
Eventually, the league will expand as the pool of players does likewise.
One interesting feature of this development is that the Chinese pro league is attempting to line up corporate sponsors for it, with candidates being Japanese sporting goods manufacturers as well as at least one British insurance company.
The Seattle Mariners last season signed a 16 year old hurler from China and there are Chinese athletes playing international soccer and there is one in the NBA. With China being the world's most populated country, if the game spreads at all we could perhaps see professional Chinese baseballers in the majors. Certainly, if one looks at the signing by the Seattle Mariners of a 16 year old Chinese hurler this past season as well as the fact that Taiwanese outfielder Chin-feng Chen is about ready to join the Dodgers and that there is a slow trickle of players from Korea and Japan, the first ten years of the new millenium could be known as the Pacific Rim Decade in MLB.
So baseball continues to break down international barriers, which leads to our next story....
Japanese Teams Looking to Cuba for Players
The last month or so has seen a couple of very interesting things happening between the Cuban baseball establishment and the Japanese pro leagues. First of all, the Chunichi Dragons are going to play an exhibition game this coming November in Cuba against a team comprised of Cuban players from different teams.
And the Yakult Swallows are reportedly pursuing two Cuban players, the fireballer Maels Rodriguez, who has been clocked as high as 101 mph, as well as righthander, Jose Ariel Contreras, who throws in the mid-90's with a vicious slider from the reports I've read. The Cubans are said to be contemplating allowing their younger players to go to Japan as a way for them to gain international experience and pick up some coaching pointers and discussions between the Cuban Minister of Sports and and a representative from the Swallows have been said to be quite amicable and productive. The current Cuban national squad is getting rather long in the tooth and a generational change is coming, so they need to give the newbies some seasoning before they step in with the big boys.
In 1988, the Hiroshima Carp played an exhibition game in Cuba. There apparently has also been some talk of the Yomiuri Giants sending coaches there to work with Cuban players. So this story will be one of the ones to watch during 2002 for baseball fans.
Yoshii to Ishii: Go East Young Man!
Montreal Expos reliever Masato Yoshii, an ex-teammate of Kazuhisa Ishii when Yoshii moved over from the Kintetsu Buffaloes to Yakult, met with the southpaw today to try to convince him of the virtues of playing on the east coast. Yoshii, according to Sports Nippon, told Ishii that "the air is really dry on the west coast and so the ball really carries. Also, you don't get as much break on your forkball there. It's a hard place for pitchers to work in."
Of course, what makes this really curious is that the Expos are in no way going to bid for Ishii. So what is his motivation for this? Concern for an old teammate? And the fact that until recently Dodger Stadium has been considered a pitcher's park as well as having pitcher friendly Safeco Field in Seattle and the ballpark in Oakland would seem to put the lie to Yoshii's assertions.
Moreover, Ishii has spent the first ten seasons of his professional career toiling in the bandbox that is Meiji Jingu Stadium, where it is only 300 feet down the lines. So he is used to trying to keep the ball down and in the ballpark.
In any event, an article in the L.A. Times raises an interesting question over the Ishii posting:
Will MLB Teams Bid High Enough to Get Ishii?
The Yakult Swallows front office officials said earlier this week that if they don't get at least one billion yen (about $8 million at the present exchange rate) for Ishii they won't accept any bids for him. The L.A. Times piece quotes and unnamed MLB team spokesman as thinking that it would only take half of what it cost for Seattle to win Ichiro's bidding rights, about $13 million (which Orix was able to use for their entire player payroll in 2001). So if MLB outfits only bid $6-7 million? Yakult officials, when asked that question, said absolutely the bid would not be accepted for that amount.
According to the L.A. Daily News, the Dodgers, who are the club that Ishii would most like to end up with, have bid $7 million for him. So we'll see if Yakult officials give in and take the cash or withold the 28 year old southpaw. Dodgers GM Dan Evans is said to be willing to sign Ishii for three years at a total of $10 million if L.A. wins the bidding process.
A Cautionary Tale for Memorabilia Collectors
The staff at the english language Japan Times doesn an excellent job reporting on baseball in that country and the Times Jack Gallagher came up with another gem about the fraudulent auction of a purported Ichiro bat on a U.S. auction site. I won't give the details here, but please go to: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getsp.pl5?sp20020104jg.htm