Major League Baseball Comes to China

By: AP
By: AP

BEIJING (AP) -- China's red flag with its yellow stars blew in a stiff breeze in deep left field alongside the U.S. Stars and Stripes. Except for this, the first Major League Baseball game in China mostly looked like any afternoon at the ballpark in America.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres played to a 3-3 tie on a near-perfect Saturday in Beijing, with clear blue skies replacing the city's usual smog, and 50-degree temperatures making it a glorious debut for baseball. The second game is set for Sunday. Both teams are using only a half dozen players who will be on the opening day 25-man roster.

The game at the new Olympic venue drew an announced crowd of 12,224 - a near sellout - and had many of the touches of home: vendors selling peanuts, hot dogs, beer, soft drinks or - and this is China - plastic bottles of tea. The concessions were cheaper than the U.S. - about $1.50 for a soft drink or a beer, and $3 for a bag of peanuts.

"I felt like the atmosphere was like anywhere else," Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. "You didn't really capture the fact you were in China unless you knew you were in China. The atmosphere was great and the field was in great condition.

"You just felt like you were at a ballpark playing baseball."

There was one problem, though it didn't impact the players. Vendors and concession stands kept running out of drinks, causing long lines to form before reinforcements arrived.

There was occasional staccato organ music to pump up the fans, and the music between inning ranged from Carmen to Latin rhythms to hip-hop.

"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."

Commissioner Bud Selig was on hand with an entourage of MLB officials.

"The thought that we are standing here today watching the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres in Beijing, China, sort of takes my breath away," Selig said. "We certainly want to play more games here, there's no doubt about it."

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 Nick Hundley threw wildly back to the pitcher. The Dodgers went ahead in the sixth 2-1 when Lucas May singled to drive 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. After nine innings, the teams decided to call it quits, which is fairly common for spring training games.

"With all the attention, all the media I thought it felt a bit more like a regular-season game than a spring training game," new Dodgers manager Joe Torre said.

In the seventh inning, of course, fans were led in a chorus of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." The only person singing, however, was the public address announcer. And there were cheerleaders dressed in red and silver with pom poms and bare stomachs.

Only at times was it clear this is China, where baseball is virtually unknown and MLB is trying to cash in on a growing middle class with money to spend.

In one inning, the scoreboard mysteriously gave the Dodgers an extra run. The error was fixed an inning later. And the park was blanketed with uniformed and plainclothes security officials, who did a sweep hours before the game and forced officials to reissue tickets and credentials for fans and reporters.

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