Mariners, Major Leagues Look to China

These include conducting baseball exchanges with countries with established baseball leagues such as Korea, Japan and the United States. Several major league organizations, including the Mariners, have sent coaching staffs and minor-league affiliate teams to China to play exhibition games and work with local players.

In turn, this spring the Lucheng academy a handful of players and officials, including Wang, to Arizona where they spent a few weeks with the Mariners during spring training.

This turned out to play a key role in Wang's eventual signing, as the organization had the opportunity to observe him up close. After he returned to Beijing, Mariners scouts kept up with his progress and, impressed, began making overtures in mid-July.

Wang was not a starting player on the Beijing team, but "his improvement since we saw him in March piqued our interest," says Heid.

Scout's Honor

Although Seattle has set a precedent by taking on the first player out of China, Heid says that was not a factor in his signing.

"The Mariners ownership has made a concerted commitment to finding players anywhere in the world," he says. "We found a player that has the tools."

The Mariners organization, which devotes a great deal of energy to international scouting, has signed players not only from Latin America but also from Italy, Australia and Russia.

Perhaps two of the most popular Mariners are Japanese All-Stars Ichiro Suzuki and Kazuhiro Sasaki. Both have huge followings not only in Seattle, but in Japan, where all Mariners games are now broadcast live on television.

But will Wang have the same impact in his home country?

Heid estimates the chance that a typical young, minor-league "rough diamond" like Wang will make it to the big leagues is less than 1 percent.

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