Beijing Baseball

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW. And this is The Score.

Yesterday the Boston Red Sox boarded a plane in Florida, bound for Japan and their season-opening games against the Oakland A's. Last minute, confusion ensued as to what the Red Sox staff of coaches and trainers would be compensated for the trip. The players had earlier agreed to $40,000 each and they had in good faith believed that sum would be distributed to everybody in the organization. When it was learned yesterday that only the players would be paid, they decided to boycott the trip. And they started to talk to the Oakland players in Phoenix who supported them. The Red Sox brass finally coughed up $20,000 each for all staff members and the players agreed to make up the difference up to the $40,000. It was great to see how much the players value the guys who prep them every day. Many of the coaches in the League were after all former players themselves, the very individuals who fought for the big money this current generation pulls in. Some coaches make as little as $30,000 a year so no pay for a couple of weeks is a significant slight.

Baseball-crazy Japan has sold out the Tokyo Dome for next week's two games. The Red Sox lefty, Hideki Okajima, who pitched in the Tokyo Dome for twelve years, is a huge draw for the home crowd, not to mention Daisuke Matsuzaka. It was only two years ago that Matsusaka showed his stuff by winning three games to help Japan take the first World Baseball Classic. The Red Sox promptly pursued Matsusaka to the tune of a whopping $100 million. It will happen one day soon that Japanese teams actually join the roster of Major League Baseball. The issue of the impracticality of teams traveling back and forth across the Pacific throughout the season seems less daunting than it used to. After all, from the West Coast, it's not any more demanding a trip than going West Coast to East Coast all season long.

If Major League Baseball and Japan is a no-brainer connection, the Major Leagues and China is a disconnect. The Dodgers and Padres played in Beijing last week to a less-than-enthusiastic reception. The crowd was far under capacity and, for the most part, they were utterly confused. I remember trying to explain the basic concepts of baseball to an Englishman once. When you grow up watching a game, it doesn't occur to you how ridiculously complicated and perplexing it appears to a foreigner. OK. There's this big field with a diamond of bases at the bottom end. Nine guys get three chances to bat the ball and try to move around those bases, with the goal of scoring at home plate. If a batter hits a ball that doesn't cross the left or right field lines into the field, that's a foul and doesn't count against him. Each step of the story continues to glaze the listener's eyes. No wonder soccer is the world's game.

There was an endearing story in the New York Times this week by an American man who is living in Beijing. His son was born there and, although he speaks Mandarin at school and is immersed in Chinese life, he's in part an American kid. Plays in a Saturday baseball league, follows the baseball season with his dad. They attended one of the Dodgers-Padres exhibition games and witnessed the crowd go from confusion to disinterest. What evidently really lost them was the seventh-inning stretch. Singing Take Me Out to the Ball Game in the middle of the game was just too much for the Chinese to comprehend.

On the other hand, in prepping for their own Olympic Games, all of China's sports federations have been pressing to improve by August. They've created a partnership with the Yankees and have been working on a steep learning curve with their coaches. The Chinese are determined to signal their position as a super power of the modern world by putting on a world-class show in Beijing this summer, from Opening to Closing Ceremonies, even on the field most foreign to them, the baseball diamond.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that’s The Score.

Chinese students watch the Los Angeles Dodgers practicing ahead the match between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres at Beijing's Wukesong Stadium on March 15, 2008. Photo: Guang Niu/Getty Images



Diana Nyad