Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Baseball In China

Major League Baseball made a big deal earlier this year about the Dodgers and Padres playing in China. It was a big deal. The Dodgers and the Padres were the first Major League teams to play a game in China. Gary Thorne described this big deal back on March 11th when he talked about how the NBA is the only American professional league in China that is popular. For many reasons, Major League baseball wants to change that.

On the surface and in the news, they cite that their intentions are to spread the game and to scout new talent, but there is obviously part of MLB that wants to take in the profits that the NBA is seeing in China.

Before we look into that mess, lets go over a brief history of baseball in China. There are reports that in 1863, there was a team in Shanghai. There was a big league with over thirty teams in the 1950’s, that ended with Mao. More recently, there has been a league that started in 2002 that has expanded from its original size of four, to six teams. This league is the China Baseball League (which is very similar to the very good Chinese Professional Baseball League, that calls China Taipei home). When the Dodgers and the Padres played their historic two game series in China (which I watched part of), the stadium was packed. The fans had no direct connection with either team, and most of the starters stayed home, but the stadium was packed. On another note, it was interesting watching the game from the Chinese Camera crew, who had very little experience with Baseball because they were not getting umpires in the shots, etc.

Baseball in China has a very conflicted history with politics. Mao really controlled its destiny in the mid 1900’s, and a lot of lack of popularity with Baseball is due to Mau’s love of Basketball. Now, the United States capitalist culture is trying to get a piece of that pie in China as MLB joins other corporations with recent investments in China like McDonalds and KFC.

What will we see here in the states? Probably nothing. Over the years, we might see more players with Chinese heritage, but the numbers will not influence the game greatly. Most fans will probably only notice MLB’s relations to China the next time MLB puts on a game there.

A Different IBL

Over the years that I have studied baseball, I have never taken a close look at an amateur league. All the leagues I have looked at, in some way, classify themselves as a professional baseball team. I have heard a lot about another IBL over the past few days from Baseball in Israel, and its history is pretty interesting.

This IBL is the Intercounty Baseball League in Ontario, Canada. They are regarded for about level A ball. The IBL started in 1919 and has continued to live on until now. Denny Mclain and Pete Orr are just a few of the famous Major leaguers that have played for the Intercounty Baseball League. There are nine teams that play in the league and last year, 7 of their players got drafted by MLB teams. (Some of the teams include Barrie, Brantford, Hamiliton, and London)To give you an idea of their history, they are working on plans right now for an IBL Baseball Hall of Fame. (The IBL also classifies as an Independent League, but it still keeps its amateur title as well).

The story of Josh Matlow, that was posted by Baseball in Israel, is really interesting because it shows how far someone will go to chase the dream of baseball. Matlow in the span of a year has played across the world. He is not the only one, others like Rafael Bergstrom did a similar move in 2007 to play in a different IBL (Israel Baseball League).

Why do I like amateur leagues? Well I see them as that good side of baseball, that side away from the greed of the Major League empires. They have that same innocence about them as the Minor Leagues do, but to another level. So if you like the Minor Leagues because you dislike the greed and lack of enthusiasm in the majors, maybe you should give amateur leagues a try. The players in these leagues did not make the initial cut to make the minors and are really fighting to keep their dreams of playing baseball alive.

Now that I know more about the IBL, and hopefully you do now as well, they should be an interesting league to watch over the summer, and be another league to follow.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Baseball Academies in the Dominican Republic

The baseball academies in the Dominican Republic provide opportunities for Dominicans to escape poverty and chase the famous rags to riches stories of stars like Tejada (the picture above is of one of these academies) These places of amazing opportunity, where good equipment is provided, where formal training can be found, hide a deep, dark story for those players that don’t make the cut.

The problem with these places is that once a player makes it to the United States, but does not make it in baseball, that player runs out of options. Dave Zirin wrote about this a while ago in 2005. He talks about how when a player from the Dominican Republic doesn’t make the cut, not only are their dreams about baseball cut, but for many, all hopes of getting out of poverty are torn away. The kids that sign up for these academies lose the education that their peers are getting who are not playing baseball. So the players who do not make the cut are really left with nothing.

Baseball academies in countries like the Dominican Republic has been an area as a fan that I have struggled on ethically. The teams say that they are giving the children in these schools a good education, but there is a cynical strain in me that feels that the education is leaving a lot to be desired and the children are not learning all the skills that are needed to get upward social mobility in the Dominican Republic.

The part that is hard to swallow is that the United States cannot do anything really to stop teams from doing this because it is outside of our Government’s reach. This has become one of the unfortunate results of baseball’s globalization and one of the best examples of imperialism by the MLB. There is one person who could have an impact, and that is the baseball commissioner (currently Bud Selig). The Commissioner can mandate reforms to these academies so the participants get a proper education as well. That would be a nifty solution, although it could also be wishful thinking.

I admit it is hard for me to judge the actions of the families that have their kids join these academies because I have never lived in the poverty that they are and for them this might be the only way that they can see a way out of poverty.

The Canadian Baseball League

Hopefully by now the word is starting to spread about the folding of the IBL before its second season. This got me thinking about other failed baseball leagues. Do you remeber the Canadian Baseball League? Chances are you probably do not as the league did not last its entire inaugural season in 2003.

In the beginning Tony Rivera, who was a scout, said that this league would be AAA quality and would become a big deal. At the start things looked good. They got 8 teams together, they got a cable deal, and they had great attendance at the first game of 5,100 fans.

That was the end of the league being successful. The Montreal team started off on the wrong foot as they never got a stadium deal due to conflicts with the proposed leaving of the Expos. The rest of the teams went through huge attendance issues. Only the team in Victoria had more than 1500 fans a game. There were four teams that had less than 300 fans a game and when the league had field neutral games (not played in a home town), the games drew around 100-200 fans. To make matters worse, the cable station, Score, pulled out. Due to all of these issues, the League had to shut down. They decided end the league after the All-Star game.

At least the league ended off in style. According to the rules, if the game was tied at the end of 10 innings, the game would go to a homerun derby, which is what happened.

What does this mean? Well unlike Israel, the baseball market in Canada is very different. Professional baseball is played in Canada from teams in the Majors and Minors. (The argument can be made though that baseball is struggling in Canada in the past several years, they have lost the Montreal Expos due and the AAA Ottawa Linx due to attendance issues). Canada also has their own amateur leagues like the Intercounty Baseball League in Ontario.

What should have been looked at before this league existed was how baseball was existing in Canada. It was already there, some teams were strong, other teams were struggling. In hindsight there was no room for the Canadian Baseball League to exist.

When Was the Last Time You Have Seen This

If you live in Boston, Chicago, or New York, people on their feat, chanting and cheering at a baseball game is nothing new to you. If you are like me and live in other cities across the Nation, this is a totally new concept.
Rarely do baseball fans here in America spend extended amounts of time on their feet during a baseball game. Sure, when something happens like a homerun, a 3-2 count, or the 2 strikes on the last batter in the game, everyone is standing, but people rarely stand for long periods of time. Even during the introduction of the players, most people are sitting down.
The video below takes place during a WBC game. If you notice everyone is standing and cheering. What else do you see?

I hope you noticed the spirit people had for their country, the national pride. I am assuming that the vast majority of the people at the game did not fly over from Korea or Japan (their opponent in the game) but already were living in the United States and came out to San Diego to see their team play. There are also a ton of flags present at this game. The stadium is also pretty full, it looks like they didn't sell upper deck seats, but the entire lower bowl and middle bowl are filled with fans.
For those who don't know the basic history of this game, this was the Semi-Finals for the WBC, and the first series that both of these teams played in America. I was up the first time Korea played in the tournament, which took place in Japan (I believe they played Chinese Taipei), it was about 2 in the morning (I was actually finishing an art project that involved baseball). The fans were really into that game even though the bowl wasn't full. ( It was full when Japan played, but that makes sense logistically). Fans in the United States did their part to win the USA team took the field.
In other words, from watching videos online of fans in the stands during the WBC games, I think the tournament was a real success. After the 2009 games, the IBAF should show videos of fans in the stands to the IOC because these videos show that people like the international competition of baseball and that it should continue as an Olympic sport.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Do you know that there is an International Baseball Federation? Well I know in the past I have heard of the IBAF, but I never really committed their name to memory, and the IBAF wants to change that.

The IBAF on their website has out lined a list of goals that they want to complete by 2015. They started these goals in 2007. As long as this list is, it is very broad and it is easy to see why the general public does not know who they are yet. A lot of their goals revolve around making the IBAF known. They really want more involvement so one of their goals is to make their meetings more open to the countries they want to serve and increase the democracy in the organization themselves. Through this, they wish to increase their own fundraising to help support their programs like youth leagues around the world and supply equipment. That really is one of the main challenges in baseball because the equipment is expensive and to really play, every child in the field needs a glove.

By increasing the amount of countries that can play, they will increase the amount of prospects from different countries and allow many countries to have their own national teams. This goes right with their number one goal which is to get Baseball back in the Olympics (until further notice, 2008 is the last year Baseball is going to be played).

The main problem with the list is that it is very ambiguous. They do a good job of describing what they want to do, but they really don’t explain how they plan on doing it. I understand that would defeat the purpose of a nice list to add in the “how”, but it could be hyperlinked. Going back to the Olympics, the eight countries that qualified (Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Japan, Korea, Netherlands and the United States) were all in the World Baseball Classing in 2006. The IBF talks about how events like the WBC will be very important in getting baseball back into the Olympics because it shows how prominent baseball is in the world.

This puts even more “pressure” on the success of the 2009 WBC as the first round is being played in four countries (that are not the United States), and their attendance will be monitored. If the tournament can expand the field after the 2009 games beyond 16 teams, the IOC might have to start reconsidering baseball as an Olympic sport. I wish the IBAF all the luck I can to make Baseball more of an international sport. In my eyes, baseball is an International Sport, but people cannot open their eyes and see that it is played in beyond the Western Hemisphere.

More Baseball Comics

Baseball has infused itself withing Japanese Culture, and one of the best examples is through Manga. Manga, a very popular Japanese style of art, is read by many people throughout the world. If you have never seen it, its basically like reading a comic book. Anyway there is a series in Japan that is about baseball.
The Series is called Major and it follows a young boy, Goro Honda, and his fa\ther, Shigehara Honda. His father is a player in the Japanese baseball league and his son idealizes him and also wants to make the majors. The family goes through hardships as they try to reach their dreams.
Major has also been adopted as a TV show as well which follows the same plot line.

There are two images you should look at, but I do not have the rights to use them. In the first link, there is an image of the Manga cover, in the second link there are a few pictures of what the animated show looks like. They are pretty neat looking so check them out.

Learn To Play Baseball in the Domincan Republic

I was doing research about the Dominican Baseball Academies where many MLB prospects come from, and I came across a site that took me completely by surprise:

“Baseball players age 18 and under (separate sessions are also available for college age players) are welcome to attend our 7 day/6 night baseball trip to the Dominican Republic (see dates/college guest coaches). The camp is 30 miles east of Santo Domingo, in the the seaside town of Boca Chica, where we will immerse ourselves in baseball and the Dominican culture. We will practice and participate in the same drills done by Dominican baseball players and play in daily games against Dominicans. These games will be a highlight of the trip and will expose our players to the spirited style of play the locals are known for. Individual players or teams are welcome.”

Before I was able to read the paragraph in full, I was completely enraged. I thought this was a stupid, horrible idea trying to trick parents to sending their children down to the Dominican Republic to see if the talent of Dominican Republic children can rub off on our American boys.

As I continued to read, my anger decreased a little, but there is a lot I still see wrong about this. The trip takes place at the Boca Chica beach. I worry that the children and teenagers that go on these trips do not get a full picture about what life is like in the Dominican Republic. I couldn’t find any testimonials online, so my feelings can’t be proven but they are still legitimate concerns.

Have you ever been to Jamaica, or know someone who has been to Jamaica on a cruise? If you do a tour of the country, they obviously put a positive spin on everything that is going on there. I am not saying that there are only poverty stricken areas in the Dominican Republic, but I fear that these young, Impressionable minds will not get the whole picture of what it is like to live in the Dominican Republic.

A positive aspect of this program is that the players from America not only play against the Dominicans, but they also eat together as well. This is an interesting idea because the players can bond. However there are still issues here, the main one being a language boundary and the cynical reader could also say that the Dominican players are probably told tone down social issues (or the players might not represent all the social classes in the Dominican Republic). Of course, that same argument can be made about players from the United States, that they do not represent all of the social classes.

Overall, I am very skeptical about this program, but if they made more culture based and try to portray an unbiased view of the country, this program could have a lot of potential. If you want to visit the site, it can be found here.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Korean Baseball Comics

Have you ever wondered about how other countries look at Major League Baseball? How they receive their MLB news? Korea has a very interesting way to display their news about MLB and it comes from cartoonist Choi Hoon. About once a week, Hoon draws comics that reflect current issues in MLB, and they are really quite good.

The details in the comics show how in tune other countries are about the story lines in baseball. The comics don’t just show winners and losers, they show fan reactions and player interactions, which is very detailed level of the intangibles in MLB.

Lets break down a recent Hoon cartoon from April 25. A friend of mine, Dan Choi, who runs a blog about the issues surrounding the 2008 Olympics, translated the comic. The comic is not posted here due to its length, so please visit the link.

In the first block, Eric Gagne is coming to the mound in Dodgers gear and the Brewer fans are exclaiming “We’re doomed!” In the next panel, the fans are saying the same thing, but this time, Gagne is in a Brewers uniform. Issue: Gagne becoming ineffective. Also shows fan distress. The Barry Zito comic runs in a very similar fashion. When he is playing his guitar in the Oakland uniform, everyone is talking about how handsome and talented he is. In the next panel, in the Giants jersey, his fans are telling him to focus on baseball. This touches his ineffectiveness from coming over to the Giants and not living up to his contract.

In my personal opinion, the Millar comic is the one that shows the most insight about baseball teams. Millar is a funny guy, but since he signed with Baltimore, he has not getting much attention because the fans here really do not care. In Boston, the fans loved him, in fact he threw an opening pitch for one of the playoff games for Boston last year…when he was still signed with the Orioles. Anyway, in the first panel, Millar is telling a story about him and Manny and a bunch of Red Sox players, and everyone is laughing with him. In the second panel, he is doing the same thing with Oriole players, and no one is listening.

These comics show the stretch of MLB across the globe, and how readers in Korea, not only care about the final score of the games played here, but they also care about the players and the relationships to the team. That’s really incredible considering the distance between the states and Korea and also considering that there aren’t many players from Korea in the Majors.