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[Sports view]Act now: China is on the verge of playing ball

Mar 07,2007
It’s spring. As usual, the Samsung Lions look good, just as they have the last couple of years. But there are far greater things on the horizon in baseball, and they could have an enormous impact on the Korean league.
Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have dominated the game in Asia, in that order.
The quality of play is reflected in the history of the game. It started in the 1930s in Japan, in the 1980s here and in the 1990s in Taiwan.
As a result, the number of Asian players who have made the jump to Major League Baseball from each country follows in that same order.
Now there is a different variable, and it comes from China. The official site of Major League Baseball said recently that the league plans to open an academy there to groom talent while holding season openers in either Japan or China.
In the Olympics, China has become a powerhouse of its own, with the world’s largest talent pool. Such success has not yet transferred to the ballpark, but if Major League Baseball successfully sows its seeds there, changes could come quickly.
With national pride at stake, China will not be satisfied with anything but being the best nation to play the game at least in Asia. That Japan is at the top will motivate China even more, given its past history. Another factor is Taiwan’s upper hand.
Once China decides to compete, it will no doubt start a government-run program.
The elite sports grooming system that the Soviet Union used to operate will make sure that the best raw talent gets the best coaching and facilities. Such support will cut the learning curve.
The logic is there. There is money to be made; the probability looks good.
People who do not look much different from the Chinese are having success, even in the Major Leagues. And above all, there will be no limit to the game’s success once it has caught on with the public.
Of course, it will take some time before the Chinese learn the nuts and bolts, but I won’t be laughing when China announces that it will start its own professional league.
So what should we do in the meantime?
Baseball organizations here need to take a look at the outside and copy everything and anything that works for others abroad.
Someone may lose control, but if the Korean league keeps struggling to make profits it will dwindle, along with the country’s competitiveness, as others wait to take Korea’s spot in the baseball order.
Remember the inaugural World Baseball Classic, when South Korea and Japan faced off several times to deliver real classics?
The Classic was a litmus test for baseball to go truly global and it passed with flying colors.
For Korea to become part of a possible new baseball order, someone must pick up the phone now and make that call for help.
What’s wrong with learning from the best? Exhibition games, all star tours here and marketing lessons whatever it takes the time to learn is now. Later, it may be too late.


by Brian Lee Staff Writerafricanu@joongang.co.kr



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