MLB in China: You Can’t Be (World) Serious!

Well, it’s been another day in the life of the ex-pat athletic supporter…

I’ve been to one Chinese Basketball Association game up in Shenyang, my province’s capital, and that was a frosty Friday nearly three years ago. The word is that Dalian was once a national power in Chinese professional (soccer) football, and I really ought to get out to the stadium once before I’m back in Canada for good. I’m sure it would turn my athletic crank and shuffle my observation deck if I actually got out there, but I’m not a great expedition-planner and this would require some linguistic Sherpas. A guy with mornings free, which I sometimes am, can often pick up an NBA game on CCTV 5, the ESPN of China, but he can forget about hockey and baseball.

Tools of nostalgia, weapons of youth. I miss baseball.

Except that, try as I might, I can’t forget baseball. As a sports fan in China, I’m mainly a reader, and a big proportion of that textual wading is devoted to basketball, both splashy coverage of the American college and pro games, and homely black and white reports from the Canadian university scene. (And don’t forget, for all the Chinese hoops news that’s fit to print in English!) I don’t often read about baseball, though, and when I do it’s an in-depth feature on an athlete or on some trend in the sport. Game results? Heck, 162 games times 30 teams (and by the way, the Jays stunk again this year) equals no friggin’ way. Gotta draw the line somewhere.

But most nights, it seems, I can see that glowing orb headed for the catcher’s mitt, but it won’t get there because my magic batting wand is cutting a smooth arc through a sweet slice of air. The meeting of bat and ball is certain, effortless. It’s how I know I’m slipping into sleep. I dream the catch (electric!) and my nightmares often are wildly misjudged flyballs that surpass my understanding – they go way over my head. And when October steps up to the plate, I can’t help paying more attention. I knew the Yankees missed the playoffs (ding, dong, the witch is dead!) and the Pittsburgh Pirates finally made them (sweet redemption of the small-market sort). Joey “Canuck” Votto and the Cincinnati Reds went down early in the playoffs, the Cardinals sunk the Pirates and immobilized the Dodgers, while the Red Sox slowed the Athletics and tamed the Tigers. So, it’s Boston against St. Louis, two of the oldest, grandest and most followed franchises in the Grand Old Game. Okay! Maybe I’ll watch me some baseball!

Redbirds ace Adam Wainwright got rocked in Game One. Sox godfather David “Big Papi” did some of the rocking, as usual.

But game one, with my childhood hero Carl Yastrzemski throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, kicked off (no, wait, that’s football) was scheduled for its first pitch at 8:07 am Beijing Standard time, by which point I was 7 minutes into reading Winnie the Pooh to my freshman Oral English class. Xiaoqiang had told me that Guangdong Television might have it on-line, but I don’t read Chinese at all and none of my young friends gives two whits about baseball. They find it incomprehensible and far too slow. (Hmm, like a lot of North American youth, come to think.) I tried Steve, a Californian colleague with an alleged jones for baseball, but he’d packed in his interest when the Dodgers went down to the Cards. I was doubtful our slow, virus-prone, pop-up-pocked school computers could get it, either, but I thought I’d check an on-line Game Tracker. Um. No. No Internet at all in Room 316, surprise!

So what does the resourceful, tech-savvy foreigner do when he needs a sports fix in China? I don’t know, but I’ll ask if I see him. Me, I got a little busy work done while I listened to Buck 65, the Canadian rapper. This was as close to baseball as I was going to get, and it eased the missing a little. Reputedly, Rich Terfry (aka Stinkin’ Rich, Johnny Rockwell, and Buck 65) was a Yankees prospect in his youth, and among the intelligence and depth of his lyrics are numerous references to his favourite game: ball-gloves in the trunk, that sort of thing.

Wait, my sports story got hijacked by hip-hop! This right here is Buck 65: smart, moody, inventive, and loves baseball. Check, please.

His Talkin’ Honky Blues album starts off with “Leftfielder, livin’ in a suitcase / Comfortable shoes, photo album and toothpaste…”. In “Roses and Bluejays”, he pays tribute to his father as “a lazy river, slow-movin’ train / Future hall of famer, playin’ through the pain…” In “463” (baseball scorecard code for the classic Tinker to Evers to Chance two-outs-on-one-pitch play at second base and at first), Buck rasps, “Learning the words, turnin’ the double play / Doing some damage in my own subtle way” and choruses “4-6-3, an X, an O, and I can’t think of a better way to end the day”. In “50-Gallon Drum”, he muses about “my idea of heaven:…I don’t want everything to be made easy for me / Fast ain’t always better’n slow, y’know / A homerun every time would start to get boring after awhile…/ I’m three for four with a double and two stolen bases… / Perfection is a place where…the ballparks are always busy and the umps always make the right calls… / It’s under my pillow – it’s tomorrow and the next day…” Heaven is another chance. 

Well, yes, there’s always next year for the Blue Jays, and there’s always tomorrow for my sports-watching ambitions. My day’s over now, and various meanderings of The Responsible Man, not to mention the baseball wasteland where I live, mean that I haven’t even heard this morning’s result yet. It’s heading for midnight, lunchtime for the ball fans back home, where there water coolers and conversations, or so they say, and there are English-language info-crawls across the bottom of video screens wherever a nostalgic old ballplayer might look. It would be impossible for a guy with ears and some interest to not know what went down. So lemme check…

Ah. A laugher. 8-1 for the throwback beards of the Red Sox of Boston, who were up five-zip before I even got out of my first-period class. The St. Louis crew, justly famed as well-trained products of “the Cardinal way”, lost their bats and their gloves, apparently, along with their Way, committing three errors. “Hooks for hands,” as Buck might’ve muttered. Actually, come to think of it, he did, on “Way Back When” from his Situation album: “Hooks for hands, trash in the can / Cash in the plan, flash in the pan / Baseball, baseball, makin’ the catches / Tearin’ the roof off, playing with matches…” Thanks, Buck.

And that’s all I know, except that if I don’t get to bed soon, I’ll be late for another appointment with electronic destiny tomorrow morning. Wish me luck – I’ll need it, but maybe there’ll be some baseball in my living room tomorrow morning. Keep score for me, in any case.

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