Second helpings in Beijing sweet
Padres top Dodgers to put wraps on successful China Series
BEIJING -- The first Major League baseball game in China felt more like a novelty than an actual game at times, complete with understandable hiccups and an overall sentiment of newness for the sport.
The second Major League baseball game in China felt more like, well, a baseball game, with the Padres and Dodgers in agreement that Sunday's contest at Wukesong Stadium -- a game won by the Padres, 6-3 -- felt like it could have been played in Buffalo as easily as Beijing.
And that, more than anything else, might be the greatest compliment paid to these fans who filled the stadium for the second time in as many day, many repeat customers who returned because they liked what they saw Saturday.
"We want more," said Wuen-lin Binyan, a student who attended each game as part of a group who sat down the right field line, eating hot dogs while wondering if one of them would catch a foul ball.
"We want more baseball."
There's no telling if the Chinese people will get what they want, although baseball will return to Wukesong Stadium in August for the summer Olympics. Beyond that, no one knows for sure, though San Diego manager Bud Black felt these two games sparked an interest among the Chinese.
"Hopefully this is the start of more baseball in China," Black said. "The seeds are planted and we can continue to grow the game. Hopefully the Chinese people will embrace the game and have a passion for it over time like we do in America."
It's a first step, at least.
"Someday, people will look back on this and recall that, as the relationship expands, this is where it started," Commissioner Bud Selig said.
In many ways, the cultural exchange was a two-way street.
The trip to Beijing allowed the Padres ample opportunity to embrace Chinese culture and more than one player remarked that he wished he could have had at least one more day to experience all Beijing had to offer, and this was after the team visited the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City on their own.
"This trip is going to be something I tell my kids and my grandkids about, that I was part of one of the first teams to come over here and experience everything that I did," Padres reliever Heath Bell said. "I went to the Great Wall. That's one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Forbidden City. I feel as if I know the culture more so than I did before."
The game Sunday included a visit by actor Jet Li, who signed autographs inside of each clubhouse before the game. The game itself included many of the same theatrics that the game Saturday had including the wave, Thundersticks, scoreboard races and, yes, even those same cheerleaders.
The reaction of the crowd was something that struck Black, not merely on base hits or strikeouts, but on the most ordinary things.
"They liked the fly balls and the foul balls," Black said. "They didn't like the ground balls."
Yes, it was still baseball, but it was anything but mundane.
"You're still making history," Padres outfielder Scott Hairston said, when asked if the second game felt any different than the first game. "You look around and you see all of the people cheering. It was an enthusiastic crowd."
And, unlike Saturday's game that ended in a 3-3 tie, the fans got to see some resolution.
San Diego's Kevin Kouzmanoff had an RBI double and Hairston put the Padres on top for good with a two-run double down the left field line in the fifth inning, as the crowd cheered.
The interest is here in China, many believe. And it will be fostered by Major League Baseball.
"There's a potential market here," Padres owner John Moores said. "I'm confident that [Major League Baseball] is going to work on this pretty hard."
As the Padres and Dodgers left Wukesong Stadium, they were encouraged that baseball has a future in China. Major League Baseball, with its Play Ball youth baseball program continues to push the sport.
MLB China Series 2008 was a good first step.
"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," Dodgers owner Frank McCourt said. "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."
Said Dodgers manager Joe Torre: "Maybe a player who is 7 years old today and taking part in MLB's Play Ball program here will reach the big leagues as a utility player or a cleanup hitter someday."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.