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Padres visit Great Wall of China

Padres visit Great Wall

BEIJING -- It was only after carefully navigating his 6-foot-6, 270 pound body down the steep slope of the Great Wall on Thursday, when Kyle Blanks took one last glance at the wall and exhaled.

"This thing," Blanks said, "just humbles you."

Blanks wasn't so much talking about the enormity of the Great Wall -- one of the Seven Wonders of the World -- but more so the strenuous task that he and several of his Padres teammates had traversing a small stretch of the wall.

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"I got to the top," Blanks said, almost proudly. "That was probably the hardest thing I've ever done. You don't really think about it, but you're but you're walking up a mountain ... and it's steep and it's slick. Everyone was huffing and puffing."

On a cloudless day Thursday, four buses made the 50-mile drive from Beijing to the one of the most popular points of entry (Badaling) for the wall that covers some 6,500 miles.

Truth be told, very few members of the Padres traveling party, which includes reporters, front office personal, members of the coaching staff and players actually made it to the top of the hill where a military outpost that was used in the Ming Dynasty now offers a breathtaking view of the wall and everything below it.

Outfielder Mike Baxter, along with second baseman Matt Antonelli and outfielder Will Venable, all twentysomethings, in great shape and full of ambition on Thursday, had every intention of joining Blanks at the top. They didn't make it.

But when fatigue set in, and with the set seemingly hovering just over the wall on what was a cloudless day, the trio turned back about three-quarters of the way up or not long after the steps gave way to a jagged slope of stone.

"We made a team decision to shut it down," Baxter said. "At that point, we figured we had seen enough of the wall. There were some points up there that was pretty steep. ... Coming down, I thought, was the toughest part. I thought I was going to face plant."

Imagine traversing the downward slope in floppy shoes over a foot long.

That was the pickle the Friar, the Padres mascot, faced as he slowly worked his way up and then down the wall all while stopping numerous times to take pictures with people who probably had no idea what they were looking at.

At one point on his way up, the Friar feigned wiping the sweat off his head after posing for pictures with closer Trevor Hoffman. He wasn't kidding, though.

Even the pitchers on the team, who when they're not throwing during Spring Training, are running to get their legs in shape for the upcoming season, had a hard time making their way to the top.

"I thought they were in shape," pitcher Justin Germano said of his legs. "... I was pretty winded when I got to the top."

The visit to the Great Wall, one of several non-baseball ventures the Padres will take part in before playing the Dodgers in the first of two exhibition games Saturday, was especially gratifying for the many players on the team who will spend the entire year in the Minor Leagues.

Take Baxter, for example. A 23-year-old who has played 10 games above the Double-A level, Baxter soaked in every second of the trip to the Great Wall, which occurred nearly a week after he and teammate Wade LeBlanc (who is not on the trip) were charged with an oral report by manager Bud Black -- complete with visual aid -- on China.

"It's a pretty great experience being here," Baxter said. "It's [report] paying dividends. I was joking around that I'm the Zagat guide for this trip. There have been a whole lot of questions coming my way."

Even Black was in awe of the Great Wall that, before Thursday, he had only read about or seen on television. Standing at the base of the wall, Black had a completely different sense of what he was experiencing in person.

"I think you don't understand how they did it ... these hills aren't small hills," Black said. "The work that these guys to do to build this thing is impressive. When you think about [6,500 miles] of the wall, it's really hard to fathom."

You didn't have to scale the wall all the way to the top to get a sense of how magnificent the structure is, though Blanks, a Minor League first baseman, is certainly glad he did.

"You just look at it from a distance," Blanks said, gazing at the wall. "... And you think about how old it is. It's great. This is just one of those once-in-a-lifetime ventures."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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