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Torre sees bright future for MLB, China

Torre sees bright future for MLB, China

BEIJING -- Joe Torre wasn't promising an instant baseball equivalent of the NBA's Yao Ming.

But as he and club owner Frank McCourt shared a press conference podium with their pitchers Chan Ho Park of Korea and Hong-Chih Kuo of Taiwan, the Dodgers manager predicted that Chinese Major Leaguers will become a reality.

"You don't get instant success in baseball -- it's a game you grow into. But if we make sure kids learn to play the game the right way, once they start blossoming we'll see a number of players make an impact in Major League Baseball," Torre said on Friday at a press conference in support of the 2008 MLB China Series between his Dodgers and the San Diego Padres.

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The games will be played Saturday and Sunday at Wukesong Stadium, where workers were putting the finishing touches on the bleachers in the midst of a construction site for a key venue of this summer's Olympic Games.

The stadium complex is in a residential area about 30 minutes from the club's upscale hotel, which is only blocks away from Tienamen Square.

During the conference, out on the field, it looked and sounded like baseball. Avril Lavigne and Fergie were blasting on the stadium public address system while coach Mariano Duncan threw batting practice to Andruw Jones and Matt Kemp.

Pitching coach Jim Slaton's relievers were testing out the mounds in the bullpen beyond left field. The Dodgers brought 30 players on the 18-hour flight from Florida and each was working out, except for Park and Kuo, who were on display as living proof of baseball's worldwide reach.

McCourt reminded the media that growing baseball in the Caribbean, Asia and South and Central America is "in the Dodgers' DNA." MLB clearly has its sights now set on the emerging market of China, where the NBA has already established a beachhead.

"This great country is ready to embrace baseball," said McCourt. "It's our privilege to bring it here and our hope that baseball becomes a truly international sport. It's our hope the Dodgers are the first in India and other parts of the world."

McCourt said MLB and Commissioner Bud Selig are committed to planting seeds at a grassroots level in China, where former Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley helped build the first baseball stadium two decades ago. MLB currently sponsors youth baseball programs in the country, through Major League Baseball International's "Play Ball" program and its Chinese Academy.

"It isn't about the money," said McCourt. "We're building bridges around the world. It's not about two games. It's about exposing the game to youngsters and exposing the joy of the game. I'm very impressed by the speed with which things happen in China. I think it will happen more quickly than we anticipate.

"There are very positive reasons why the game will take off in China. It appeals to a very broad demographic group. It travels well."

Torre said with the number of people living in China, "you know there's got to be a number of potential Major Leaguers."

Ken Gurnick 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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