Major League Baseball would like to make inroads into China for the same reason every American company would like to make inroads into China: huge opportunities for profit. As the Washington Post's William Wan reports, MLB executives have even gone so far as to set up a teaching academy in the city of Wuxi to develop the country's most promising youngsters. The hope, of course, is that "one day a player from this school will finally make it to the majors in the United States and bring with him some of this country's 1.3 billion potential fans." It's what happened to the NBA when the Houston Rockets drafted Yao Ming in 2002. Since then, Wan writes, 300 million Chinese have taken up basketball, the country has emerged as the the league's largest foreign merchandise market, and the NBA's operations there have been valued at $2.3 billion.
So, what's stopping MLB from pulling off a similar coup in China? According to Wan, plenty. Despite claims from the "Chinese Baseball Association" that 4 million Chinese already play the game, Wan notes that "few people off the street know how to play." Furthermore, "Equipment is scarce and, with the skyrocketing value of land in China, baseball diamonds are rare." Coupled with the International Olympic Committee eliminating baseball as an Olympic sport in 2005, it seems China's hardball revolution might still be a long way off.