BEIJING - It was a special day for China's Tibetan student Sanandaj this Wednesday, as the 13-year-old joined the MLB baseball development center in Wuxi, a stride forward to realize his dream of becoming a baseball equivalent of NBA star Yao Ming.
Sanandaj is a member of the baseball team of Hainan No. 1 Minzu Senior Middle School in the Hainan Tibetan autonomous prefecture of Northwest China's Qinghai province. Since the establishment of the team in 2006, the baseball side from the Tibetan Plateau has shown a strong performance in national junior tournaments, which drew the attention of MLB (Major League Baseball) China.
MLB China has been giving assistance to the team in terms of equipments, coaching and training. And Sanandaj is the fifth team member recruited to the development center in Wuxi to receive systemic education and baseball training.
"Tibetan youngsters' talent and fortitude impressed me very much," said Xie Long (Leon Xie), Managing Director of MLB China. "MLB development center had recruited four Tibetan student-athletes before and they have made tremendous progress with hard work and persistence both in the pitch and the classroom."
MLB formally opened a baseball development center at the Dongbeitang High School in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, on September 23, 2009, which is China's first MLB baseball training facility that provides professional baseball training for junior and senior high school-aged students within an academic school environment.
The development center, which can accommodate more than 100 players aged 12 to 18, has an international team of baseball instructors. In addition to receiving an excellent academic education, the students will receive baseball training and English lessons to prepare for global opportunities.
According to Xie, two previously recruited Tibetan students, namely Huadeng Danzeng and Xianba Cairang, had traveled to Singapore for continental baseball exchange events last October.
"This was their first overseas trip, which helped them expand their horizons and gather experience. We are fostering these hopefuls with patience and expect some of them to grow into a Yao Ming of baseball," Xie added.
MLB is seriously thinking about discovering a baseball version of Yao Ming, considering how much interest the Houston Rockets' All-Star center has sparked for the NBA in his home country. That's why MLB has decided to work with the nation's education and sports departments to promote the sport in public schools and communities, hoping to scout and nurture future talent.
Although baseball has lost its Olympic status, MLB still aims to boost the popularity of the sport in China, especially among the youngsters.
"We have two major goals for China. The first is to boost the popularity and participation of the game among young athletes, and the second is to help raise the level of China's national teams as well as cultivate potential junior players," said an ambitious Xie.
MLB launched its grassroots youth baseball program, Play Ball!, in five cities across China in 2007. The program has been incorporated into the physical education curriculum for students aged eight-to-12 in 120 elementary schools in Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Chengdu and Wuxi.
Play Ball! China has reached more than 400,000 people since its launch. The participating students have been introduced to the rules of the game and instructed on developing their baseball skills as part of their in-school physical education programs.
According to the Chinese Baseball Association (CBA), there are more than four million people playing baseball in China and over 60 Chinese universities and colleges and 1,000 high and primary schools have their own teams.