Blue skies, hot dogs greet MLB for first game in China
BEIJING -- The vendors sold peanuts, hot dogs and tea. Blue sky replaced gray smog, and a breeze in left field unfurled China's red flag alongside the Stars and Stripes.
It was opening day for baseball in China on Saturday.
And the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers left the nearly sellout crowd of 12,224 at the new Olympic venue with an inconclusive outcome -- a 3-3 tie in an exhibition game in major league baseball's first foray into China.
Not that the result proved all that troubling. Most fans knew so little about the day's events that nobody booed when play was called after nine innings. And forgive them if they didn't sing along to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."
"It's historic if nothing else," commissioner Bud Selig said.
Dodgers manager Joe Torre said all the hoopla made things feel closer to a regular-season game.
"It took on a little bit more than an exhibition game for me today," he said. "In spring training you go out there and you basically practice even though you play a game. There was the attention, the number of media, the number of questions involving being here in China. That type of atmosphere made me feel it was more than just an exhibition game."
Except for the prices of concessions -- a 12 ounce beer cost $1.50 -- it seemed like an afternoon at any ballpark in America. There was one problem: Vendors and concession stands kept running out of drinks, creating long lines before reinforcements arrived.
"You didn't really capture the fact you were in China unless you knew you were in China," said Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, whose wind-blown double in the eighth tied the score. "The atmosphere was great and the field was in great condition. ... You just felt like you were at a ballpark playing baseball."
Occasional staccato organ music pumped up fans, and the music between innings ranged from Carmen to Latin rhythms to hip-hop. Fans who arrived early even saw a little glimpse of traditional China: dozens of elderly practicing tai chi near the stadium entrance.
"In general overall the ballpark had a good feel," Padres manager Bud Black said. "The between innings entertainment was not unlike what we have in the States."
Selig took a long look at what transpired.
"I am very confident that someday after I'm gone and we do as well as I think we are going to do in China, people will say that's where it all started," he said.
Selig said there would be more games in China, and he left open the possibility of a regular-season game. This season's opener is in Tokyo on March 25 with the World Series champion Boston Red Sox facing the Oakland Athletics.
"You need a genesis; you need a starting point," Selig said. "And this is a great way to start."
Let history record that the first hit in China went to the Dodgers' John Lindsey in the top of the second, a line shot to left field. Also of note: Dodgers outfielder George Lombard swung at the first pitch of the game and grounded out. He also hit a home run to right field in the third inning with one out to give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.
The Padres tied it in the fourth when Oscar Robles scored from third after Dodgers catcher Lucas May's toss to pitcher Chan Ho Park clipped the bat and skittered across the infield. The Dodgers went ahead in the sixth 2-1 when May singled in Andruw Jones. The Dodgers added another run in the eighth. Starter Chan-ho Park went five innings and allowed one hit.
Craig Stansberry drove in a run with a double in the eighth to cut the lead to 3-2, and Gonzalez followed with a run-scoring double to tie it for the Padres.
In the seventh inning, of course, fans were led in a chorus of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." The only person singing, however, was the public address announcer. And there were cheerleaders dressed in red and silver with pompoms and bare stomachs.
Baseball is virtually unknown in China, and Major League Baseball is trying to cash in on a growing middle class with money to spend. Chinese fans, however, noticed what seasoned fans seldom do.
"The Dodgers uniforms look very good, flattering with a nice cut," said Sunny Fan, who identified himself as a professional "fashion consultant."
In one inning, the scoreboard mysteriously gave the Dodgers an extra run. The error was fixed a bit later. The park was blanketed with uniformed and plainclothes security. They made a sweep hours before the game and forced officials to reissue tickets and credentials to fans and reporters.
It may have been a run-through for Olympic security, fallout from anti-Chinese demonstrations in Tibet or caution surrounding Tuesday's conclusion of the annual session of the national legislature.
"It was a festival of baseball for a fan like me," said Zhu Yi, a Red Sox fan who traveled 1,000 miles from the southwestern city of Chongqing. "It was a real opportunity for me. It would have been even better if the Red Sox had come."
Maybe next time.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press