Baseball Makes a Mighty Pitch in China and Africa

Phillies PitcherBaseball may be America's game, but it's eager to expand in international markets. Recently, it has tried to recruit fans in China and Africa, but results have been mixed.

Major League Baseball is having a particularly hard time in China. As The Economist recently noted, the late Chairman Mao reportedly considered the game a symbol of the "decadent West" and encouraged the Chinese people to play basketball. This goes a long way toward explaining the National Basketballs Association's continued popularity in the People's Republic. Meanwhile, baseball has tried mightily to make inroads in the country for years, but continues to struggle.

"Despite a big promotional budget, MLB has not made much of an impression. It has brought branded clothing to Chinese stores, but not balls or bats," The Economist says. "Fields are rare. MLB is trying, belatedly, to rectify this, funding a development centre at a school in Wuxi that has access to a field created by expatriates."

Remember Harry Kingman?

Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province, has a league of its own, and the 12U Youth Baseball World Championship is scheduled to be held in Taipei in July. However, across the Taiwan Strait, the world's most populous country is still a baseball wasteland. In fact, China has only produced one Major Leaguer: Harry Kingman, a child of American missionaries, played for the New York Yankees between July 1, 1914 and August 20, 1914.

The minor leagues are even worse. According to Sean Forman, president of Sports Reference, no Chinese-born players have ever suited up for a minor league team.

Still, baseball isn't giving up on China. In 2007, MLB launched a grassroots program called Play Ball! at 120 elementary schools across China. At the same time, former players and coaches -- including Hall of Famer Cal Ripkin Jr. and Milwaukee Brewers slugger Prince Fielder -- have conducted clinics in China. And in terms of TV programming, MLB signed a new broadcasting deal with three partners in China that expanded the audience for regular-season games, the All-Star Game and the World Series.

Out of Africa

MLB's prospects in Africa are more promising. While baseball is played in many African countries, it's probably most popular in South Africa, where Texas Rangers Pitcher C.J. Wilson recently conducted clinics. More than 250,000 players participate in adult and youth leagues, according to the South African Baseball Union.

MLB scouts have already found some promising talent there, signing eight South Africans and one Nigerian, according to an MLB spokeswoman. Anthony Philips of South Africa briefly played shortstop for the AAA affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, and Dylan "Sharky" Unsworth, a promising young pitcher from South Africa, also plays in the Mariners system. In 2008, Gift Ngoepe, a South African playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, became the first black African to sign a Major League contract. The infielder is still in the minor leagues.

The Africa Baseball and Softball Association continues to promote the sport, which must vie for attention against more popular pastimes such as soccer and cricket. Baseball games are televised in Africa over ESPN.

However, while baseball doesn't always receive TV coverage, it is growing in popularity. "In countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, Cameroon, Tunisia, Uganda, Senegal and even Cote d'Ivoire, to name a few, national championships are held regularly and are covered by media," Isidore Tameu, an ASBA spokesman, tells DailyFinance. "Unfortunately, media coverage does not always fulfill the hopes and expectations of the federations. Efforts are currently being implemented by ABSA for finding effective ways to increase the visibility of baseball in the media."

South Africa's temperate weather make it especially suitable for baseball because it can be played all year round.
The quality of the baseball, though, still needs to improve. South Africa got crushed in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, conceding 22 runs.

In an interview, Paul Archey, baseball's senior vice president of International Business Operations, says South Africa is at a place in its development where Australia was 15 years ago. Australian baseball has improved mightily in recent years and now has a professional league. In fact, the land down under has produced an impressive 25 U.S. major leaguers.

Eyes on the Ball

More foreign-born players are flocking to the minor leagues thanks to the Creating Opportunities for Minor League Professionals, Entertainers and Teams Act, which freed baseball teams from having to compete with other employers for H2b visas for foreign workers. In 2007, the law was signed into law by President George W. Bush, a former owner of the Texas Rangers.

As baseball grows internationally, Africa is becoming a promising resource for major league teams. As for China, baseball's future is a bit more questionable, but MLB will likely keep its eye on the ball there as well. After all, 1 billion people make for a mighty deep bench.

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9 Comments

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George Adjanor

I KNOW IF BASEBALL IN AFRICA WILL GET SUPPORT AND SPONSOR LIKE OTHERS IN THE WORLD, BASEBALL WILL BE LIKE FOOTBALL WE PLAY IN AFRICA AND THE WORLD LIKE,
IN GHANA WE PLAY BASEBALL IN THE HARD ROOT WAY, NO SPONSOR, NOTHING, BUT FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME, WE PLAY WELL. I KNOW NO GHANA WILL BET SOUTH AFRICA IF WE HAVE THE EQUIPMENT AND THE SPONSOR THEY HAVE IN BASEBALL IN AFRICA,
I WILL BE HAPPY IF M LB, AND THE REST WILL NOT ONLY CONCENTRATE IN SOUTH AFRICA BUT GO ROUND , SELECT CAMP THE PLAYER, LET THEM HAVE THE GOOD TRAINING , THEN YOU WILL SEE THE NUMBER OF AFRICA IN THE MAJOR LEAGUE AND SO ON.THANK

February 07 2014 at 11:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
socioeconomist1

Another system of draining our economy.... MLB ticket sales to pay foreigners as employees..... It's not like 100,000 people in America wold love to play baseball for a living or anything.... The highest paying jobs in America and the revenues for these companies are being used to invest in other markets..... Next time you pay for a baseball ticket just put $50 in an envelope and mail it to Venezuela c/o Hugo Chavez

February 22 2011 at 12:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
CnOWrms1

Obama is a big White Sox fan, although he can't pronounce Comiskey Park or name anyone who plays for the White Sox. Maybe he could cheer for teams in China and Africa when he is voted out 2012.

February 20 2011 at 4:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cljvedelman

Much of the baseball equipment and licensed baseball apparel sold in the USA is made in China. And, we have a hard time making inroads with the actual game in that country ? It needs to be a 2 way street, or we should require production of baseball products be moved elsewhere. That is what is called a no brainer where I come from.

February 20 2011 at 12:47 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
andresmur

Well, cricket will always be tops in most countries. It can be played in small spaces and require little equipment.

February 20 2011 at 12:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steven

Kinda ironic, everything else is going to China, etc. Might as well add baseball too.

February 20 2011 at 12:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jdwlor

Hey who hired the illgals to start with ,the sme ones that hire them to do everything else.Look at the resterant buisness the landscapers the farmers the home builders the roofers the packing plants ,just to mention a few,the same one sthat our goverment keep giving tax cuts to,so called small buisness.You can blame illgals for alot of things,but until buisnesses stop hireing them over Americans,it isn't going to stop.Wake up folks buisnesses don't care about you and I,the bottom line is the dollar.

February 20 2011 at 12:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
junior

Hey American men, how do you like them illegals coming and playing in your spots????

February 20 2011 at 11:06 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
madmax821

Bye see ya

February 20 2011 at 10:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply