Major League Baseball has opened its first Baseball Academy in China, using it as a foothold to continue the growth of the sport in the world's largest nation. What is officially called the MLB Development Center is located at Dongbeitang High School in Xishan District, Wuxi, which is in the eastern part of China on the Yangtze River. The Center is geared to provide professional baseball and academic training for middle school- and high school-aged students. "One of the chief goals of Major League Baseball in China is increasing the popularity and participation of the game of baseball among young athletes," said Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, who is in China to participate in the opening ceremony of the MLB Baseball Development Center.
After being banned during Chairman Mao's "Cultural Revolution" of the 1960s, baseball began to make its resurgence in this Asian nation of 1.5 billion residents (in comparison, the U.S. is home to 305 million people) when China was awarded the 2008 Summer Olympics. Baseball has since been dropped as an Olympic sport, but in 2008, the sport was very much on the agenda, and China earned an automatic berth as the host nation. Thus a national team and pro leagues were formed. China's foray into international competition was in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, when it lost all three games in the Asian bracket and was outscored 40-6 by eventual champion Japan, Korea and Chinese-Taipei. But in the '09 Classic, also won this past March by Japan, China showed incredible growth, defeating rival Chinese-Taipei, 4-1, and losing to the Japanese just 4-0. Between the Classic and the Olympics, the Chinese have a 2-11 record, 1-5 in the Classic and 1-6 in what might have been the final Olympic baseball tournament. But they were certainly more competitive in the Olympics than their record might reveal. They defeated Chinese-Taipei and had runners on base in the bottom of the ninth before losing to the Netherlands by a pair of runs. The Chinese also lost to eventual gold medal-winning South Korea, 1-0, in 11 innings. Prior to the Olympics, MLB staged a pair of Spring Training exhibition games between the Dodgers and Padres at the Wukesong Baseball Field in Beijing, which was the host venue for baseball during the 2008 summer games. The exhibitions on March 15-16, 2008, showcased MLB Clubs for fans in China for the first time. The teams split the pair of games. With the advent of the state-of-the-art Development Center, MLB is hoping to capture China's growing interest in baseball and move it forward toward the next Classic in 2013. "The establishment of the MLB Development Center demonstrates Major League Baseball's commitment to expand the sport in China and to aid elite players in reaching their full competitive potential," DuPuy said.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.