City pitches for new sporting first

Updated: 2016-09-07 07:29

By Yang Xinwei(China Daily)

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Dongsheng bids to be China's international baseball town

Zhongshan is a city that has produced several of China's sporting firsts.

One of them is Rong Guotuan, who became China's first ever world table tennis champion when he won the men's singles title at the 1959 World Table Tennis Championships in Dortmund. Another is Jiang Jialiang, who also ruled the table tennis world in the early 1980s before the sport joined the Olympic family at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Jiang led China to the team title at the 1983, 1985 and 1987 world championships and won the singles title in 1985 and 1987.

City pitches for new sporting first

Central outfielder Liang Tingxi of Xuri Middle School in Dongsheng, Zhongshan City, 12, has been playing baseball since third grade, and is now a frequent participant in the national 1A competition as a pivotal player on Team Pandas. Provided to China Daily

Su Bingtian is another Zhongshan native and is so far the only man of Asian descent to have run a sub-10 second 100m, which is widely regarded as the benchmark of world class in sprinting circles. Su achieved the feat at last year's Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon, US.

In addition, the Zhongshan Hot Spring Resort Golf Club was the first standard golf course on the Chinese mainland.

The city is now preparing to unveil another sporting first: it is pitching to become China's first ever baseball town.

Its 21 teams and 12 playgrounds might seem small fry compared to the thousands of baseball diamonds in the US, but in a nation where table tennis and badminton are top of the list for both parents choosing sports for their kids and ordinary citizens looking to get more exercise, the number seems mammoth in a Chinese city of 3 million people.

"We have a tradition of placing extra emphasis on sports development in Zhongshan," said Qiu Shuhong, a senior official from the Zhongshan municipal government. "Sports play an important role in the municipal government's long-term overall development plan."

A total of 150 million yuan has been set aside as an initial investment to help build Zhongshan's Dongsheng town into an international baseball town, Qiu disclosed.

Baseball has continued to grow in popularity in the town over the last decade, despite the fact that it was ejected from the Olympic family following the Beijing Games. The sport is, however, expected to make its return at the Tokyo Games in 2020.

Baseball is played at 20 primary and middle schools in Dongsheng, and there are more than 500 Little League players in the town. Twelve schools have makeshift baseball grounds and trainers and coaches have been brought in to guide young players.

The town's baseball side Team Pandas represented China at the Cross-Straits Championship, and they also took part in the Little League Baseball Series. Seven players from Zhongshan have attended Major League Baseball development centers in China.

"We still have a lot to learn, especially from our neighbors South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, but believe me, with the support from the local government and people's enthusiasm, the future of baseball in Zhongshan looks very bright," Qiu added.

Zhongshan real estate developer Feng Xiaolong is an avid baseball fan and has been deeply involved with the development of baseball in Dongsheng town. He has arranged for baseball championships to receive financing and invited the sport's leading figures from MLB, the Japanese Baseball League and the China Baseball Association to give clinics and hold training sessions. In addition, he is responsible for establishing Team Pandas.

Feng said he had already been contacted by countries and associations interested in conducting their winter training camps in Dongsheng. He added that this necessitated both the upgrading of the town's current facilities and the building of new ones.

"People's enthusiasm, local government support and the vision of businessmen will definitely make it happen," said Shen Wei, vice-chairman of the Baseball Federation of Asia (BFA).

"For some sports, however great our efforts are, they just come to nothing. But baseball is different. It's a sport of wisdom and teamwork, and we can excel in both," Shen said. "It may take some time to overtake Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, but we will, one day."

As a businessman, Feng knows the importance of a high profile.

"We have all the elements necessary to make Dongsheng an international baseball town, but right now we need to host more national and international tournaments to raise the profile of the town," he said, adding that a standard baseball stadium will be built within the next two years and the value of being a baseball town will be realized in five years.

Shen is aware of the value added aspect too. The retired former head of baseball and softball development in China persuaded the BFA to give the 9th BFA U12 Baseball Championship to the town.

The biannual seven-day tournament will be held from Dec 7-13 and around 200 players representing eight teams will participate. As a rehearsal, a test competition called the "Panda Cup" Little League Baseball Tournament will be held from Oct 26 to 31.

The Panda Cup has been held for the past five years in memory of Liang Fuchu, a Dongsheng native and the father of Chinese baseball, who created the Panda Cup in 1939 in Shanghai. Liang's team shot to fame by beating teams from the US, Portugal, Britain and the Philippines.

"The continuous effort of developing the sport in the past 10 years really makes me feel that Dongsheng is growing into a role model," said Shen. "Dongsheng is setting an example. We are not expecting overnight results, we just want the students to enjoy being in the sun and fresh air and learn from a sport that inspires through emphasizing teamwork."