Commentary

Welcome to China

Updated: March 4, 2009, 12:01 PM ET
By Joe Connor | Special to ESPN.com

QUICK FACTS

Most Known (Outside Baseball) For Its …: Mammoth population; Communist past and present; NBA hoopster Yao Ming; and its Great Wall.

Location: Eastern Asia, bordering the East China Sea, Korea Bay, Yellow Sea, and South China Sea, between North Korea and Vietnam

Size: 3,705,386 square miles, or slightly smaller than the U.S.

Population: Approximately 1.3 billion (largest in the world)

People: Han Chinese (92%), plus 55 ethnic minorities; Mandarin, Cantonese

Language: Standard Chinese or Mandarin (Putonghua, based on the Beijing dialect), Yue (Cantonese), Wu (Shanghaiese), Minbei (Fuzhou), Minnan (Hokkien-Taiwanese), Xiang, Gan, Hakka dialects, various minority languages

Government: Communist State

Capital: Beijing (approximate population: 17 million)

Famous National Anthem Verse: "With our flesh and blood, let us build our new Great Wall!"

QUICK BASEBALL HISTORICAL FACTS

Most Known For …: Where MLB is hoping to find its Yao Ming.

Baseball's China Debut: 1863.

First China-born player to play MLB: Harry Kingman, born: Tientsin (Yankees, 1914) but parents were American-born. No native China-born player has played MLB.

China's Best Baseball Town: Tianjin, which has the most knowledgeable fans in China's pro league and draws its biggest crowds. Former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley helped fund the building of the baseball field in Tianjin for students of the Tianjin Physical and Cultural Center Institute.

China's Baseball Weather: Hot in the summertime.

Biggest Sports Competitors: Basketball, ping pong/table tennis, soccer.

China's Best Baseball Museum: None yet.

Distinctly Chinese: The number of school-age athletes in the Land of Mao alone is larger than the entire population of the U.S. … In 2000, MLB began sending its "envoy coaches" to China to teach baseball to players and coaches for a period of two to 10 weeks through free clinics in schools and baseball clubs and on open fields (MLB has since sent nearly two dozen coaches) … Occasional China Baseball Speak (remember, they're still learning): A "run" is a "point"; a "game" is a "match"; and "an inning" is a "set" … During barnstorming tours between World War I and World War II, the likes of Babe Ruth, Casey Stengel and others visited China to play the Shanghai Pandas a team founded by Liang Fu Chu, sometimes dubbed the "grandfather of Chinese baseball." Liang's three sons, now in their 70s and 80s, are baseball's elder statesmen in China today. They played for the Pandas in the 1940s and 1950s when the team often took on squads comprised of U.S. military men stationed in Shanghai -- often beating them.

QUICK TEAM CHINA AND PLAYER FACTS

Biggest International Rival: Chinese Taipei

Biggest International Successes: China finally beat Taiwan in 2008 Olympic competition in Beijing, a loss that still stings many Taiwanese. Previously, Taiwan knocked China out in a pre-Olympic qualifier for the Athens Games in 2004 and clobbered them in 2006 WBC action. At the 2005 Asian qualifier for the World Cup, China first beat one of "Asia's Big 3," upsetting South Korea, 4-3, to finish third.

Most Notable Current MLB Export: None

2006 WBC showing: China got clobbered, going 0-3.

Back from the 2006 WBC team: Zhenwang Zhang (Yankees prospect)

Now on 2009 WBC team: Kai Liu (Yankees prospect), Dawei Zhu

Missing in action from the 2009 WBC team: Wang Wei (Mariners signee out due to injury)

PLAY BALL -- IN CHINA!

Overview: The China Baseball League (CBL) has six teams that have played up to 60 games, sometimes less, from April through July, with the top two teams advancing to a best-of-five championship. Each team is traditionally allowed up to three non-Chinese born players with two of those playing at the same time.

Most Successful Franchise: Tianjin Lions have won four of the seven titles while the Beijing Tigers have won the other three championships.

Biggest Rivalry: Beijing Tigers-Tianjin Lions.

Notable Alums: Former MLB players Steve Rain and Edgard Clemente, nephew of Hall-of-Famer and the late Roberto Clemente, have played for Tianjin.

Best Ballpark/Playing Surface: Most ballpark are small, with a capacity of about 3,500. China's Holy Grail ballpark was built for the 2008 Summer Olympics competition, but the Jiangsu baseball complex in Wuxi is perhaps the most complete facility in the nation, with an indoor practice area, dormitories and a practice field, in addition to the main field. The complex was built by the Jiangsu Baseball Association for the 10th Annual Chinese National Sports Games, and the Hopestars of the CBL play there. Wuxi also hosted the first China Baseball Academy, with among 60 of China's most talented 12-to-15-year-olds participating.

Ballpark Atmosphere: Drums, horns and cheering sections make an appearance in the playoffs, along with capacity crowds. Outside of that, it's pretty non-atmospheric.

Baseball with your Morning Cup of Tea: Breakfast and baseball. The China Baseball Association secured a broadcast agreement under the condition Sunday games were played in the morning at 9:30 local time.

Joe Connor is a contributor to ESPN.com who has visited more than 30 baseball countries on six continents. He's the author of "A Fan's Guide To The World Baseball Classic," which is available for purchase exclusively at his Web sites: www.modernerabaseball.com and www.mrsportstravel.com.