US baseball seeks its own Yao Ming
The United States' top professional baseball league opened its second talent development centre on the mainland in Changzhou, Jiangsu, yesterday to drill deeper into one of the biggest untapped gold mines in sport.
After establishing its first centre in Wuxi, also in Jiangsu, two years ago, Major League Baseball built a second base in Changzhou, an industrial city just 40 kilometres away.
The centre, at the Changzhou Beijiao Middle School, shares the same goal as the one in Wuxi - finding a global baseball superstar to attract hundreds of millions of fans and create a multibillion-yuan market. They are looking for the sport's equivalent of basketball superstar Yao Ming .
About 16 per cent of the 1.3 billion people on the mainland want to play baseball, according to a study by TNS Sport Asia, a market research firm, in 2008. But they had no equipment, fields or coaches. The sport, with its high priority on team work, used to thrive on the mainland and was especially popular among the elite. But it was wiped out by reactionaries during the Cultural Revolution.
The success of baseball in other parts of Asia, including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, later rekindled interest in the sport on the mainland. The Americans are entering the mainland market after the Japanese and Taiwanese leagues but have more money, the world's best coaches and bigger ambitions.
At the opening ceremony for the new centre yesterday, Paul Archey, MLB's senior vice-president in charge of international business operations, said the league was excited at the prospects for development on the mainland.
'We believe the Changzhou centre will develop more excellent young players, promote the sport among people and bring the national level of game play to a higher level,' he said.
The Changzhou centre 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 being the hours they spend after school with MLB coaches sharpening their skills.
Charlie Monfort, owner of the Colorado Rockies, was impressed with the young players he saw. 'They rival the players in the United States in the same age group,' Monfort said.