Only Dongguan: Out of the Park

Jim Mann was the 1998 Pitcher of the Year for Korea’s International Minor League. He spent a season with the Samsung “Start” and in the Taiwan Minor League, a season with Taiwan Fushiang. Hailing from Albany, New York, he met his wife in the Philippines in 1999 at the Asian Softball League Championships and has four children, Jimmy, Tony, Jojo and Maria. On his second stint in China, he has now lived in Dongguan for four years and is the Vice President of Faytex Corp. in Dongcheng.

So, I am living up in Fujian province and about to move down to Dongguan. My son is playing baseball in Xiamen, and we are travelling an hour and a half each way for him to play. We are moving to Dongguan and I figure we can try to play some baseball there. This was July of 2010. I was not totally surprised to find that there was no baseball in or around Dongguan.

Let’s back up a bit. I was lucky to play some minor league ball and it always has been my passion. I played one year in Korea and one in Taiwan. Boy, I was a bit surprised upon getting to the field the first time in each place. Baseball is baseball, but Asian baseball is not the same in all aspects. Saluting the umpire when you go to bat, not showing a lot of emotion on the field or in the dugout, making sure to save face for the older players, and no hotdogs at stadiums are just some of the differences. I once asked, on an off day, for the clubhouse guy to get me a hotdog and Coke. He came back with dried squid and a distilled rice liquor called Soju.

Also, having a translator helps, but not all things translate out exactly, as we all know. Trying to translate, with emotion, some of the small nuances of the game is not easy. I made a mistake in a game once and was mad at myself. Only myself. But the coach was upset and worried as I yelled (at myself) and did not know what to do. He looked at the translator, who looked at me as I said, “just let it go.” Strange faces all around.

When my son, Jojo, took a liking to the sport I wanted to make sure he had the opportunities that I did when I was younger. This is a little more difficult in China than in the U.S. or even in Taiwan or Korea for that matter. Baseball to Chinese is not something most of them have even seen. Basketball is the most sought after sport here in the mainland and baseball makes most Chinese think twice to see if they even know what it is.

He looked at the translator, who looked at me as I said, “just let it go.”

Well, I enlisted two friends, John Lung and SY Jang. One Taiwanese American and one Korean to help me get this off the ground. We went to the old QSI grounds that now houses ISD, and asked to use their field. Director Hall was gracious and fantastic enough to let us give it a try. We asked around to some folks to see if they would help. It was a great surprise when a group of guys said they would love to coach.

I remember the first day, October 15, 2010. We had gotten enough equipment brought in from Taiwan and the U.S. to at least start it off, and we went to the field early to turn a soccer pitch into a baseball field. Sitting around after the set up, we all wondered if anyone would even show up. Low and behold, the cars started pulling in at about 8:45 a.m. Only in Dongguan would something like this be possible. A complete volunteer operation, and here comes bunches of people to give it a try. We were all smiles.

Americans, Taiwanese, Chinese, Koreans, Germans, Filipinos, you name it. They were coming to see what this was about. Some kids had played before, some had not. It was interesting to see those who had not tried on a baseball glove. Some had no idea what it was. They did not understand why it wouldn’t be on the same hand they write with, and had no idea why each finger went into a separate area. The look on the kids’ faces was priceless. But they all wanted to try it and that was good.

With the help of local businesses we got the word around and raised some money to buy field equipment and baseball equipment. And it took off. The local community had a huge hand in this getting going. We also have a group of ladies led by my beautiful wife that come and cook hamburgers and hotdogs each week for the kids. The Dongguan Dragons were born and raised. Every Saturday we teach baseball and the program has grown three fold.

This past year we had Hsin-Li Group donate their Shatian Town baseball field, and Rawlings Company also joined by helping with equipment. We have kids of all ages enjoying the great pastime of baseball. The team has some kids who have been asked to visit the MLB Academy in Wuxi and we have brought our team to tournaments in Xiamen, Shanghai, Hong Kong and are planning more to come.

I sit back on some Saturdays and smile. Only in a community like Dongguan could we get a hodgepodge of multi-national people to rally behind a relatively new experience and get it to work. It is overwhelming to see kids from so many countries playing together, learning together and laughing and having fun.