Last month the first Chinese baseball players were signed by the Yankees and Mariners. Is this the start of a burgeoning trend, with baseball's version of Yao Ming soon to be taking the mound for a Major League team?
If you listen to Chinese national team manager Jim Lefebvre (yes, that Jim Lefebvre), the answer is probably not.
"China has no Little League, no high school, no college," Lefebvre, a former major league player and manager, said during a recent telephone interview. "Baseball is a very young sport in China and has no grassroots programs like we see for the kids from Latin America, the U.S., everywhere. Even Europe has better programs."In a country dominated by ping pong, soccer, and basketball, there's just no room for baseball. Yes, there is the Chinese Baseball League, which consists of six teams playing a 30-game schedule, but there's little exposure to America's pastime. It also doesn't help that the CBL's games are attended only by a few hundred per game.
But those who do attend the games observe a skill level far below their Asian neighbors Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. The Chinese players don't have much or any experience throwing a baseball. As a result, arm-strength is low, with pitchers generally throwing in the mid-70s. Stolen bases are also found at a much higher level because catchers don't usually have the power to throw anyone out.
And the lack of knowledge on the game also shows.
"The players are very intelligent but they do make a lot of mistakes. They don't understand the score, how to play the game, strategies," Lefebvre said. "When they get a guy on first with no outs, they bunt him to second and then bunt him to third and hope something happens after that."Lefebvre believes it will be the next generation of Chinese players that really makes its mark in the major leagues. Already an international game, MLB will eagerly be waiting for them to come.