China games even feel like history
Dodgers officials, players take in unforgettable experience
BEIJING -- Possibly more than anyone in the Dodgers traveling party, Joseph Reaves knows what this means.
A former war correspondent who has lived in this Chinese capital, as director of the club's international operations he was instrumental in the planning and execution of the historic goodwill series with the Padres that opened on Saturday.
And he can't believe they've really pulled it off.
"This may look like a small thing to some people, but to anybody who knows, for Major League Baseball to come to China, who could have seen this coming?" said Reaves.
"For so long this was a very insular country. I first came here in 1984. People would stop and stare at you because you were different. You would never see a splash of color. To see China embrace something so un-Chinese like baseball, it's amazing. This is a little stadium, but this is a big step. It sounds corny, but as a journalist, you sort of know when you are seeing history in the making and that's how it feels."
As Reaves spoke, "Friar," the San Diego Padres mascot in costume, strode past three spit-and-polish uniformed soldiers.
"Back then," he said, "you'd only see gray-and-blue Mao suits. This just blows you away."
Reporting to Wukesong Stadium was a welcome return to normalcy for Dodgers players, who experienced a whirlwind travel and appearance schedule the previous two days (or was it three?) that included an 18-hour flight from Florida, a workout and press conference, a trip to the Great Wall and a cocktail reception.
Exhausted, few players left the team hotel after the Friday night reception and most planned their ambitious sightseeing for after Saturday's day game. Plans ranged from walking to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, shopping for custom suits at Silk Street and testing local delicacies at one of the Ghost Street eateries.
"Major League Baseball has opened an opportunity for China, but it's also opened an opportunity to Major League ballplayers like me," catcher Danny Ardoin said before batting practice Saturday. "I've been playing 14 seasons and I've never seen anything like this. The people work hard and the place is spotless. It's a different way of life here."
Despite the compressed schedule, it's been an unforgettable experience.
"On the bus back from the Great Wall, I was saying to Xavier [Paul], I'm from Mississippi and he's from Louisiana and I wish the boys back home could see us now," said John Lindsey, in his 13th professional season and still looking for his first Major League at-bat. "I'm sure my parents are proud that their baby is in China."
"Yeah, I'm from the country," said Paul, who hails from Slidell, La. "A lot of people from my hometown think this is Mars. You can't beat it. I really didn't expect Beijing to be so modernized. It's like New York or something."
Most of the players chalked up the few inconveniences to a unique life experience.
"The bus ride back from the Wall was an eye-opener," said reliever Mike Koplove. "Seeing how many cars, bicycles, horse-drawn carts, taxis, busses, everything," he said. "To see how big this city is and how old it is. I just wish I could have seen it from outside the bus. It's been amazing. I really wish there was more down time to experience what Beijing has to offer."
Koplove, who has almost four years of Major League experience but is trying to make the club on a Minor League contract, said he's not concerned that his chances will be compromised by limited game action because of the trip.
"No matter what continent I'm on, I have to pitch well to make the team," he said. "You make the best of any situation. You enjoy the sights but when the game starts, you lock it in."
Reliever Eric Hull was struck by the ubiquitous military presence, particularly around the team hotel, which is one mile from Tiananmen Square.
"I feel very safe, but at the same time it's kind of intimidating as a foreigner, without knowing the laws or customs," he said.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.