MLB-China Partnership Sending Ballplayers to U.S.
The New Year we’re moving into this week under the Chinese Lunar calendar is the Year of the Rabbit, considered the luckiest of the 12 animal signs to be born under in the Chinese zodiac. While some may be born to it, others’ luck is made through lucrative CCP deals.
In 2021, Major League Baseball extended its contract with Tencent, a Chinese tech company that broadcasts NBA games and has an audience of more than 1 billion. Through its international WeTV service in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, Tencent’s viewership will expand. China’s baseball interest is at unprecedented levels, and intensifying. Baseball is played in more than 80 Chinese colleges and universities, and dozens of new baseball facilities have been built in recent years by local governments and individuals.
Always anxious to enlarge its $11 billion industry, in 2017 MLB and Beijing Enterprises Real-Estate Group Ltd. (BEREGL), a major Chinese state-owned enterprise, announced a 10-year relationship to further promote baseball in China. Jim Small, MLB’s Vice President, Asia Pacific division, said that MLB’s objective is to provide first-rate facilities and coaching for the increasing number of Chinese baseball players and that MLB is “honored,” his word, to team up with what he called one of China’s most forward-thinking, innovative and successful companies.
BEREGL and MLB plan to build nearly two dozen MLB-branded baseball facilities throughout China. Most of the new projects will be labeled MLB-BEREGL Baseball Development Centers and will provide top-notch facilities for talented Chinese student athletes in grades 7–12. The curriculum will offer mainstream academic instruction and baseball fundamentals. MLB maintains three development centers in Wuxi, Changzhou and Nanjing. No such facilities exist in U.S. for middle-school kids or any other age group.
MLB will continue to send, as it has in past years, visiting professional players and coaches to instruct all levels of Chinese players and teams. Previous MLB visiting instructors have included Prince Fielder, Curtis Granderson, Mark Melancon, Jeremy Guthrie and Jim Lefebvre.
In the globalist design that MLB developed with BEREGL, more Chinese players are on their way from the development centers to the U.S., either through the international draft, arriving on P-1A visas for professional athletes or by attending U.S. universities on nonimmigrant F-1 visas. In 2015, the Baltimore Orioles signed Gui Yuan Xu, the first development center graduate. Xu, a position player nicknamed Itchy because of his affection for Ichiro Suzuki, played 73 games over three seasons in rookie and Class A ball before being released. The Boston Red Sox, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Philadelphia Phillies signed six other development center graduates; five of them were released after failing at the lowest minor league levels.
Many Chinese MLB aspirants prefer the college university route where more nationwide scouts will evaluate their skills. DJ, for example, is a 24-year-old native of Qinghai, a province in an autonomous Tibetan region. His visa documents identify him as Fnu Suonandajie. Fnu, however, is not a name, but initials that stand for First Name Unknown, a term the State Department assigns to foreign nationals with an unknown given name. And Suonandajie is not Fnu’s family name, but rather an appellation a Tibetan monk gave DJ, as his friends know him, when he was a child.
MLB, constantly prowling for promising athletes for their middle school program, discovered DJ in 2011. After graduating from Nanjing’s development center’s high school program, DJ came to the U.S., earned a roster spot as a walk-on at Los Angeles Harbor College, graduated in 2021, and was soon given a full baseball scholarship at Kansas City’s Division II Rockhurst University. He hopes to enter MLB’s first-year player draft, a longshot for a D-II player.
Evaluating the cozy partnership between MLB and the state-owned Chinese real estate business, clear winners and losers emerge. The big winners are MLB which will tap into an exploding market for not only players, but also for billions in streaming income and millions more in merchandise sales to Chinese baseball fanatics. Chinese players also win. They’ll receive a visa to legally enter the U.S., even though their prospects for reaching MLB are infinitesimally low. The website FiveThirtyEight calculates any player’s chances to make it to the major leagues, including standout NCAA players, are 0.17 percent.
The losers are the U.S. prospects from NCAA universities or other amateur leagues. Arriving Chinese players expand baseball’s labor pool, diminishing the chances of those already in the pool. But the biggest losers of all could be the public at large. Chinese players entering in significant numbers could represent a national security threat. Historically, the State Department does a poor job of tracking visa holders, regardless of the threat they may pose. In baseball’s multi-billion-dollar business, globalism reigns. Everything else is a distant second.
Joe Guzzardi writes about immigration issues and impacts.