Major League clubs the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres will play two games in China in March as US baseball aims to develop a strong relationship with the Asian giant in its bid to expand globally.
US Major League Baseball's (MLB) first games in China will be played on March 15 and 16 at the 12,000-seat Wukesong Baseball Field, which is the venue to be used for the 2008 Olympic Games.
"Baseball is a developing sport in China and we have had lots of MLB support in recent years so I am convinced these games in March will give a strong boost to the sport here," Meng Wei, vice chairman of Chinese Baseball Association, told a press conference.
Representatives of MLB and its players union attended the press conference to announce plans for the games, which the Chinese association will host.
"You are going to see significant major league players here. We are not going to give you a bum roster."
Padres' vice president
MLB officials said China was the focus of the league's drive for international expansion and that without a Chinese presence the sport could not be considered truly global.
"We don't see how baseball can be a truly international sport unless we embrace the playing of baseball in the great country of China," said Gene Orza, head of the MLB players association.
"These games are very important to us and to all the people who share that vision of baseball being a truly international sport."
Spring training in the east
Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, Padres' vice president, and Joe Torre, manager of the Dodgers, said top players would be on the roster for the March exhibition games, which will form part of the teams' 2008 MLB spring training schedule.
"You are going to see significant major league players here. We are not going to give you a bum roster," Winfield said.
Torres said the two games, followed in August by the Olympic baseball competition, would be a significant showcase for the sport in China.
The Dodgers already have links with China.
In 1980, the club helped build the first practice field in Beijing and funded construction of a baseball stadium in the nearby city of Tianjin.