03/16/08 2:21 AM ET
Selig: 'This is where it started'
Commissioner believes baseball will soon be big in China
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
During his tenure, Selig has been committed to growing baseball internationally. He'll fly back to the U.S. from China only to turn around and fly back to Asia to attend the March 25-26 regular-season series between the Red Sox and A's in Tokyo.
Perhaps no emerging nation presents the potential for economic benefits like one with 1.3 billion possible baseball fans. Selig, having lived through the Cold War, noted the symbolism of the flags of the United States and China flying together beyond the center-field bleachers.
"I feel we're making inroads," Selig said as he watched the second and final game of this weekend's goodwill series between the Dodgers and Padres. "We will continue to do what we can to accelerate the process. In fact, I feel so good about it, I have no doubt in my mind that in a decade, baseball will be big in China.
"We're watching CNN this morning and our series was the lead story on the sports segment. We're getting positive coverage in a world where there isn't much positive coverage. Someday, people will look back on this and recall that, as the relationship expands, this is where it started. Given what we've tried to accomplish in this series, it's exceeded anything we could have hoped for."
During his tenure, Selig has been committed to growing baseball internationally, but no emerging nation presents the potential for economic benefits like one with 1.3 billion possible baseball fans. Selig, having lived through the Cold War, noted the symbolism of the flags of the United States and China flying together beyond the center-field bleachers.
"It's absolutely stunning to see those flags and it gives you goose bumps when you listen to the two national anthems," he said. "I was standing with [Dodgers manager] Joe Torre, who I've known for 50 years, and we were talking about how unbelievable it was that we were here in Beijing playing baseball. I just have to pinch myself. I know it was a long trip for everybody, but it was well worth it. We are in the right place."
It is, for sure, a place of change. The Chinese production crew for the telecast of the Dodgers-Padres goodwill series back to the states included several Taiwanese in key roles. Baseball has a way of setting aside the well-documented political differences of the two nations.
Which is why Dodgers owner and chairman Frank McCourt stresses the relationship building between MLB and China over the dollar counting.
"If we focus on the relationship-building aspect and create goodwill between Major League Baseball and the Chinese people, the revenue will take care of itself," McCourt said. "If we focus on revenue first and forget the importance of the relationship, we may be disappointed.
"We must be patient. We must build fields, provide equipment, train coaches. We need not worry about the money. This country grows wealthier by the moment. They don't need our money, they need our help and friendship. We need to be a good partner with the Chinese people and send a clear message that this game can be their game too."
The Dodgers are expected to announce soon that they will help save the Dodger Stadium built 22 years ago in Tianjin and now part of Tianjin University. The club built the stadium in 1986.
McCourt said baseball can tap into a Chinese society hungry for diversion.
"Right now, the Chinese are looking for ways to introduce their population to the concept of leisure, to the concept of middle class," he said. "It's a country on the move. The timing for baseball couldn't be better. We want baseball to be one of the options for entertainment. We want kids to play it in school and for families to be spectators. We are limited only by our imagination.
"It struck me as I walked out of Saturday's game, I saw kids laughing and throwing balls and it was as if we were leaving Dodger Stadium. It was an American experience in Beijing, China. They were having fun without even knowing all the rules and nuances of the game. It is an awesome achievement for everyone involved to pull it off. When the Chinese people become familiar with the game, it will be even better. I think this country will fall in love with baseball."
McCourt said that he senses the relationship to be truly reciprocal.
"We brought the game of baseball and we can see the joy it brings. We've made an impact here and the Chinese people have made an impact on the American side," he said. "They've opened our eyes. We are all so impressed with the people here, the history of this country and the architecture of this capital. You can't help but be impressed with the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and now the Bird's Nest stadium (the spectacular venue for opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics). In August, the rest of the world will see what is happening here in China."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.