BEIJING, April 6 -- China's baseball authorities are seeking help from their Japanese counterparts in a bid to get their "baby" beyond first base.
The China Baseball League returns later this month with a Japanese organizing partner, new Japanese sponsors and support from Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), Japan's baseball league.
The Chinese Baseball Association announced yesterday that it would continue to work with Softbank Group of Japan to organize the league, which was inaugurated in 2003.
The league opens on April 13 in Wuxi, East China's Jiangsu Province. The six teams hoping for glory are Beijing Tigers,Lions, Eagles, Guangdong Leopards, Sichuan Dragons and Jiangsu Hopestars.
After the 63-game regular season, the league will enter a 10-game playoffs starting June 9.
A best-of-five championship series will follow and end on July 1.
However, this season all six teams will have an NPB club as a partner. Beijing, three-time league champions, will pair Yomiuri Giants, Sichuan will team up with Softbank Hawks, Shanghai will have Hanshin Tigers, Jiangsu will go with Chiba Lotte Marines while Guangdong, last year runners-up, will partner Hiroshima Toyo Carp.
Reigning champions Tianjin are a step ahead as they have already set up a similar co-operative program, which allows the Japanese club to send coaches and players to China and Chinese players to train at facilities overseas, two years ago with Yokohama Baystars.
"Although China's baseball is still in its infancy, I am looking forward to a marvellous season this year," said Kazuo Hasegawai, NPB secretary-general.
The Chinese officials see the development of the league as a way to increase the competitiveness of China's national team at the Beijing Olympic Games next year. As hosts, the team will participate in their first ever Olympics.
Chinese authorities have also signed cooperation deals with Major League Baseball (MLB) and the New York Yankees to help train the national team. They also hired two former MLB All-Stars, Jim Lefebvre and Bruce Hurst, as the team's manager and pitching coach.
However, a clash between the league and Olympic preparation seems to be unavoidable as the CBA has decided to cut the league short this year so that the national team can train together as long as possible.
"We have to cut the league to three months," said Shen Wei, CBA secretary-general. Normally the league lasts more than five months.
But the Chinese side wants more than Olympic success.
"Apart from the Olympics, we hope more people will play baseball in China," said Lei Jun, the newly-appointed chief of the sport.
"We need baseball stars and Chinese baseball needs to go international.
"But now we have to take care of it like a little baby." (China Daily)