Fine China: Dodgers, Padres shine
On grand stage in Beijing, Major League Baseball a huge hit
BEIJING -- There were long lines at the concession stands, lines to get in the stadium and certainly enough blaring music between at-bats on Saturday to blur the disparity between the first Major League game in China and, really, any other baseball game.
But this clearly wasn't any other game, right down to the chicken burritos that proved to be hot, if not unusual, items for the sold-out crowd of 12,224 which came to Wukesong Stadium on a sun-splashed day to watch baseball for the first time.
This was historic.
"To see this ... takes my breath away," Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig told reporters before the game. "If we do as well as I think, people will say this is how it all started."
Anticipation gave way to reality on Saturday as the Padres and Dodgers played the very first Major League game in China, a country Major League baseball is making an effort to introduce the sport to, through youth clinics and, as evidenced Saturday, an actual game that ended in a 3-3 tie after nine innings.
There was an animated race between packets of ketchup, mustard and relish packets on the scoreboard. Fans cheered at appropriate times. They even did, gasp, the wave in the third inning and banged the inflatable clapping sticks together for as long as their arms could stand it.
There were even cheerleaders, who seemed to get more attention from both teams than any of the fans in attendance.
"I think it was like anywhere else," Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. "They cheered at the right time, the atmosphere was great. You just felt like you were in a ballpark playing baseball."
There was no shortage of expatriates in attendance Saturday, complete with enough Red Sox and Yankees hats to give Wukesong Stadium a distinct American feel, though there was no shortage of Padres and Dodgers garb, too.
The Yoder family was decked out in Padres hats, gifts that the team sent over to the U.S. Embassy on Friday. John and Stephanie Yoder both work at the Embassy and professed no particular allegiance to either team.
"She's a Red Sox fan," John Yoder said, sounding only slightly ashamed. "Just call us patriots today."
Tickets for the game sold for as low as 50 CNY, or roughly $7 US. It was estimated that 20 percent of the tickets for the game were given away by Chinese officials, a practice that's not entirely uncommon for big events.
The late-arriving crowd Saturday -- long lines to get through security checkpoints delayed entry for many -- was treated to what typically looked very much like a mid-season game between the National League West Division foes, complete with good pitching and little hitting.
Los Angeles right fielder George Lombard hit a solo home run off Padres starting pitcher Justin Germano in the third inning. The Padres got that run back in the fourth inning on a weird play that saw Oscar Robles race home from third base when Dodgers catcher Lucas May missed Chan Ho Park with a return throw to the mound.
The Dodgers took the lead in the sixth inning on an RBI single by, oddly enough, May. The Padres tied the game in the eighth inning on RBI doubles by Craig Stansberry and Adrian Gonzalez.
The fans were not only receptive to a game they hadn't seen before but impressed both teams with their knowledge.
"They made more noise than I expected. When they announced in the ninth inning that there'd be no extra innings, they booed," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "They knew enough to know ties aren't any fun."
The pregame festivities were to include an elaborate ceremony that featured a traditional Chinese dragon and lion dances as well. Actor Jet Li was even supposed to throw out the first pitch. None of that happened, though, but the fans did not seem to miss it.
Li-hua Yuan, a 22-year-old student, was given a free ticket by a friend before the game. She admitted, through an interpreter, that she didn't know the first thing about baseball, but was curious to see how her fellow Chinese countrymen responded to this new sport.
"Most people I know like soccer, they like Ping-Pong. They don't know baseball," she said, between bites of a soft pretzel, another hot item on Saturday. "I will cheer for the San Diego team. I like their hats better."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.