MATHEW ANDROVETT WRITES — Baseball has become massively popular in Asia over the past few decades. Nationally organized leagues, such as Japan’s Nippon Professional League, have grown into massive successes; and countries such as Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea churn out big-league prospects for U.S. baseball at a consistent rate. But, despite baseball’s explosion in popularity across Asia, the sport has failed to take hold in China.
In recent years, efforts have been made in China to establish the sport, with the Chinese Baseball League having been established in 2002. From these efforts have stemmed a piquing interest in the sport across the country, with China producing its first MLB prospect in Xu Guiyann, who in 2015 signed with the Baltimore Orioles to play in the U.S. minor league system. Since then, China has continued to produce multiple prospects who would go on to play in the minor leagues but has still failed to produce a single Major League Baseball player.
Despite the lagging growth of the sport in the country, the future of baseball in China still looks bright, as in 2017 the MLB announced “a 10-year partnership with state-owned Beijing Enterprises Real-Estate Group Ltd to help grow the sport in China.” The MLB, the official U.S. corporation, sees China as an untapped market and believes that through growing the sport in China it can expand the reach of the sport internationally.
This partnership focuses on a ground-up approach to growing the sport by funding youth baseball in China and by attempting to bring more young athletes into the sport. This effort to grow the sport will take time to reap benefits. While the growth of the sport in China is still sluggish, this partnership should accelerate its expansion, and over the next few years, it would not be surprising in the least to begin to see Chinese-born baseball players making their debuts on MLB teams – perhaps even for the Cincinnati Reds!