Some friends and I had the chance to be a part of baseball history yesterday, as we were on hand to witness the first ever Major League Baseball (MLB) game played in the People’s Republic of China. The Dodgers played the Padres and the score ended in a 3-3 tie (no extra innings played). It was a gorgeous spring day with lots of sunshine and blue skies, thanks to the slightly chilly wind blowing down from Mongolia. It was a good thing we got there early because there was a very very long line to get through the security check. Of course, they were trying to prevent the obvious objects from being smuggled into the venue (weapons, bombs, etc.), but there were many other prohibitions as well, and they were looking in every bag. No water bottles allowed; no tea thermoses; no food (they overlooked my peanut butter sandwich, however, but that’s because I don’t think they knew what it was); and no signs or banners that were not first approved by the police. Truth be told, especially this week, I think that they security forces were much more nervous about unapproved banners and signs than they were about any weapons.
As we entered the bleachers, the ticket taker smiled at us and said zhu nimen bangsai yukuai (lit. wish you baseball competition happy). Now there’s a phrase I’d never heard before. When we got to our seats (right field line) we discovered that we were right smack dab in the middle of several hundred 10 year old boys, who were obviously participants in some sort of baseball camp. They had MLB gear on, and were being herded around by coaches. Actually, they were sitting in our seats. I told the coach with them that they were in our seats, and he smiled and herded them all a few rows down. Hmm. That was strange. This little ritual happened 3 or 4 times during the game. He’d get them all seated, then some others would come along and claim the seats. I finally asked the coach what was going on, and he said that there tickets were scattered all over, and he was trying to keep the kids together. Anyway, we were surrounded by hundreds of little boys with blow-up sticks and they smacked them together as loud as they could. Clearly they were having a good time (and we were going deaf).
The game got started after the playing of both national anthems and the US ambassador threw out the first pitch. Yes, the baseball game was fun and interesting, but we were actually more entertained by the little boys. As soon as the game started, their coaches started bringing out the food and the feeding frenzy began: potato chips, hot dogs, more potato chips, soda, more chips, and finally Snickers. Most of the news reports about the game talked about the concessions running out of food—we know why—it was all being bought up to feed these little boys! By the 6th inning, when they were done eating, they all filed out and headed off to the booths set up outside the stadium where they could practice throwing and batting.
There were lots of laowai (foreigners) in attendance–pretty much all the Americans in town–but the locals still had us outnumbered. They seemed to enjoy the experience, although at times I think they found the American fans more entertaining than the game. And probably the most entertaining thing for them was when all the laowai suddenly stood up and started singing in ” Take me out to the ballgame.” We got some very puzzled looks!
By the time the game was over, we were pretty cold and parched from facing the north wind, and decided that we needed a pepperoni pizza to warm up! For a journalist’s account of the game, go here. Below are some photos.