Photos courtesy of Richard Liu of The Beijing Softball League
China recently held its first Major League Baseball games as the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres faced off at Wukesong Stadium. I grabbed a taxi downtown, inched along in a traffic jam, listened to one of those cross-talk radio shows that sound like a trio of cats trapped in an oil drum – all of the trappings of a typical day, except I was going to a MLB baseball game! In Beijing!
Here is some play-by-play, with photos, inane commentary, and more…
British people… in the parking lot… going to the game… I hope there’s no trouble.
The crowd is bustling, the security is efficient, the Zhongnanhai crowd is having its last puffs, and the weather is nice: cool and breezy, with sunshine fighting through light haze.
Outside the stadium, locals try to throw baseballs into the strike zone. The result: balls wildly flying six feet wide or short. Basically, they are throwing baseballs like I hit golf balls.
Inside, Jet Li throws the ceremonial first pitch. Why? He once played shortstop for a minor league club in Cheektowaga, New York – actually, I made that up, I have no idea why he was there. He throws it right down the middle. Steeeee-rike! Looks like he might also be good with a bat.
Better than that, I spot a guy wearing a shirt with the faded logo of the defunct Winnipeg Jets. The Winnipeg Jets!
Top of the first
The guy behind me is going “ai yaaaa”, “ai eeeee” and “ooooo” on every play. If the pitchers throw as high as his voice, it’s going to be a long game.
Bottom of the first
A base hit, the runner advances to second, he steals third, and then scores on a sacrifice fly – baseball at its best. Padres 1, Dodgers 0.
By the way, I’ve always assumed baseball would never work in China because the fields take so much space. But Japan, South Korea and Taiwan aren’t exactly laden with vast tracts of cheap land and the sport thrives there. Plus, I just read Murray Ross‘ “Football Red and Baseball Green“:
“[Baseball] was an instant hit during the Industrialization [in the US]… It established an artificial rural environment, one removed from the toil of an urban life” and “everything exists in harmony.” Migrant workers, here’s your sport!
Top of the second
Someone walks by and says the hot dogs, by Tim’s Texas BBQ, are sold out. Uh oh!
Bottom of the second
A shrill-voiced emcee comes on the field and announces it’s time for a contest. Near home plate, people play a video game that is projected on the stadium’s screen. All I can see are the words “Ketchup wins!” Huh? I’m getting hungry.
Top of the third
After a foul ball, the announcers say, in Mandarin and English, “Be careful of balls batted into the stands.” Well, duh.
I decide to support capital punishment for abuse of Thunderstix, those inflatable tubes people bang together. I accept using them to rally your team, or when prompted by the announcer, or even to fight off bugs. But randomly pounding the things together for hours? Crank up the electric chair.
Besides, we have built-in Thunderstix – they are called “arms” and “hands”. Used properly, they create a sound known as “clapping”.
I head for a hot dog: Tim’s has them after all, but runs out as I get to the front of the line. Fortunately, a new batch shows up 10 minutes later. A bit too much bread, and no ketchup, but they’re OK. Beer is ten kuai a can.
Top of the fourth
It’s 3-1 Dodgers. The Padres have runners on the corners. Antonelli hits into a double play, but the runner on third scores: 3-2 Dodgers.
The dancers come out and do some hip hop thing. Why aren’t the Hooters girls having a dance-off / Jello wrestling match / wing-eating contest against the other teams’ cheerleaders? I sense a missed sponsorship opportunity.
Bottom of the fourth
“Be careful of balls batted into the stands.” Major League Baseball, thank you for caring.
Two on for Harrison, who doubles down the line and scores both. Padres 4, Dodgers 3. I miss the Padres going ahead 5-3 because I’m listening to a foreign journalist interview the guys behind me.
“MLB is really popular here, the kids really love it,” says one. (Really?) Another, who plays for a school team, says, “I like the spirit… The rules are reasonable.”
Unbelievably, he misses two crucial questions: 1) when a Chinese team wins a championship, do players spray each other with Champagne or with Changyu sparkling cider; and 2) are Communist party members required to cheer for the Cincinnati Reds?
By the way, I spot the fan of the day – a guy wearing a knapsack with a mannequin sticking out of it. You just know you’ll see this guy again.
Bottom of the fifth
Three up, three down…
The emcee is out again for a DHL-sponsored game called the Pagoda Shuffle, a version of the three shells game, on the stadium’s screen. Guess which pagoda the baseball is under!? They mailed in this one.
Top of the sixth
Another game, this one for Snickers: Two guys race against each other to put on a pair of baseball pants, a baseball shirt, and, over both of them, an official Beijing Olympics brassiere and panties. Yes, I made up the last part, but are you telling me some Fuwa-inspired lingerie wouldn’t sell? A Beibei bra, a Jingjing thong? Think about it.
“Ladies and gentleman, please beware of balls batted into the stands.” “Ladies and gentlemen, your heads are like melons, these baseballs are like rocks, so stop being a nerd and bopping your first date with your ThunderStix and pay attention to the game. It’s not only for your safety, but also for your dignity.” Much better.
By the way, my early vote for player of the game goes to Matt Kemp. Every time the Dodgers’ outfielders finish warming up, he throws the ball into the stands, the game’s highlight for fans in my section. Mike Baxter, his Padres counterpart, is pretty stingy with his balls.
Bottom of the sixth
The pitcher takes a line drive to the body, his glove flies off, he scrambles to the ball, and he throws the out runner at first. Ouch! Nice play.
Another emcee-led game: watch the play on the stadium screen and then guess if it is a) ground out, b) double play, or 3) sacrifice fly. Frankly, here are activities I’d rather see:
- The Joe Torres stinky tofu challenge: The Dodgers get a run for every pound of the stuff he can down in five minutes
- The “taser people who drop litter onto the field” contest
- The Fuwa lingerie show
- The Dodgers and Padres mascots in a kungfu match
- Mike Baxter throwing more balls into the stands
Top of the seventh
The Padres, with runners on second and third, force in a run – they’re up 6-3.
By the way, the fence in left is 98 meters, the fence in center is 122 meters, and the distance between me and Wrigley Field in Chicago is about 10,377,000 meters. The Chicago Cubs haven’t won the World Series in – drum roll – a century. Not even once since 1908! If they don’t win this year, I’m giving them a 20-year deadline before I withdraw my support.
Seventh inning stretch
We sing the baseball classic, “Take me out to the ballgame.” The lyrics are in the program, so everyone can sing along, and – even better – they play it twice. Good stuff.
Bottom of the seventh
And we have our first heckler, who decides Baxter is a good target. “Baxxxxxxter”… “Number 63 loves 69″… “I love your butt Baxter.”
Top of the eight
The heckler is neutral. He decides that Kemp is just as good as Baxter. “Keeeee-eeemmppp”, “Hey, Kemp let’s go to KTV after the game.”
Bottom of the eighth
There is something sacrilegious about the Padres’ mascot, a Franciscan monk, doing sexy dances with 15 nubile women in white tank tops and electric orange miniskirts and ankle warmers. It… just… isn’t… right.
Now we are only getting “beware of batted balls” announcement in Chinese. I’m guessing the English-language announcer had discovered the 10-kuai Yanjing.
Top of the eight
Some fans get the wave going, including the guy with the mannequin. Except now the dummy is strapped to his front and he is using its arms to slap Thunderstix together. Now this is a good use of Thunderstix. (By the way, I’m nominating this guy for the Beijing branch of the Sideburns Hall of Fame).
Bottom of the ninth
As the Padres warm up, Baxter has a final chance to redeem himself and throw a ball to the crowd. He doesn’t. Ladies and gentlemen, your player of the game – Matt Kemp.
Final score: Padres 6, Dodgers 3
R.C. Robinson, the guy who cost the New England Patriots the Super Bowl, is standing outside the stadium dressed as a… leprechaun. He says it’s for St. Patrick’s Day, but I have my doubts. I guess the security isn’t as good as I thought.
Where’s me lucky charms!