Fans in Beijing show their passion
Dodgers' Park creates buzz among Korean faithful
BEIJING -- An international incident nearly erupted as the Dodgers tried to leave Wukesong Stadium on Saturday, a clear illustration of why Major League Baseball came to this unlikely spot in the first place.
Chan Ho Park, working on a Minor League contract but a national hero in his native Korea, wanted to sign autographs for fans who traveled to see him allow only one hit and one unearned run in five innings, but stern Chinese security personnel wouldn't allow it. Dozens of uniformed security moved in to separate the crowd of fans from the team bus, voices were raised in anger and the scene was getting ugly.
Team officials quickly quelled the tension with a negotiated settlement for Park to sign at the stadium on Sunday. Park had to explain the decision to his fans in their native tongue.
Meanwhile, for the inadvertent benefit of a few reporters to witness, a bigger point was made. Asian countries do embrace baseball, sometimes fanatically, and there's no greater potential audience than China. That's why the Dodgers and Padres traveled here for the two-game goodwill series that started with Saturday's 3-3 tie and will conclude on Sunday.
Park, moving closer to winning a job in a remarkable comeback story, found himself torn between two emerging markets after his start. He was pleased to have participated in this showcase for China, but suggested that Major League Baseball remember from where he came.
"I'm really hoping Major League Baseball comes to Korea," said Park. "I know this is a big market, but there are a lot of fans in Korea too. I hope they open an academy, because since I came, teams in Korea have dropped a lot. Kids need to see Major League Baseball in Korea. I'm hoping they do it before I retire so I can pitch in Korea.
"Think about it -- if a Chinese Major League player came back here to play, that would be huge, fans would come to the stadium. If the Dodgers and Padres played in Korea, it would be unbelievable. That's my hope."
While Park was playing peacemaker with Korean fans in front of the team bus, Taiwanese fans near the back of the bus chanted the names of Hong-Chih Kuo, who pitched two scoreless innings in relief of Park, and shortstop Chin-lung Hu, described by manager Joe Torre as "a little jumpy in this environment" after he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and numerous defensive bobbles.
Torre said he was "tickled" for Park, who was "great last time and even better this time." Park said he's been working on a changeup with a grip he learned from closer Trevor Hoffman when they were Padres teammates.
Torre also praised Kuo, who is out of options and bidding for a swingman job. Hu is making a bid at a utility infielder job with the injuries to Andy LaRoche and Tony Abreu.
Torre said the crowd of 12,224 "made more noise than I expected."
"I felt, and you could see, they tried to make it fun for the fans at the park," Torre said. "It felt more like a regular-season game than a Spring Training game."
The stadium was nearly empty 15 minutes before game time, but only pockets of empty seats remained once the game was underway.
"I was wondering what was going on, but it was like any other Dodgers game," said designated hitter Matt Kemp. "They didn't show up until the second inning. It's just like playing in Dodger Stadium. But I was a little worried."
Kemp said compared to fans back home, Chinese fans were neutral.
"They cheered for either team," he said. "They just wanted to watch the game."
George Lombard, who homered in the third inning, said the fans were respectful, while the players started the game "in slow motion," feeling the effects of jet lag and a hectic agenda since arriving.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.