American baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. has traveled to China on his first trip as a U.S. Public Diplomacy Envoy. The legendary Baltimore Orioles player used his baseball skills to spread American goodwill and teach Chinese young people a few tips on America's favorite pastime. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.
Chinese students in Beijing were treated to a special visit late last month by world-record holding baseball player Cal Ripken Jr.
In August, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appointed Ripken an American Public Diplomacy Envoy.
On his first trip in the new position, Ripken visited schools in the Chinese capital for a series of baseball clinics.
Ripken and a group of foreign and Chinese coaches drilled the kids on pitching, batting, and fielding.
Ripken is known as baseball's Iron Man for having played 2,632 consecutive games before retiring in 2001 after 21 seasons with the Baltimore Orioles.
But, even in retirement he remains an active supporter of baseball academies and youth leagues in the U.S.
Now, as a U.S. public diplomacy envoy, Ripken is taking baseball abroad to share American culture and the sport he loves.
"By sharing and communicating and teaching the game, you are teaching, you know, your values and your principles, and your way of life through the sport, through baseball," Ripken said. "And, certainly, baseball is perceived as American game."
Although baseball has flourished in neighboring Japan, it has failed to catch on in China where the majority of young people prefer basketball or soccer.
Most of the kids at the clinic, like 12-year-old Lu Xin, had never heard of Ripken before his visit.
"I like (him) because Americans welcome him and love him. He's also not bad at baseball," Lu said.
In a small village on the outskirts of Beijing, Ripken met kids who had never seen baseball, let alone played the game.
The Xiu Song En Hua School is home to over 100 disadvantaged and orphaned children from all over China.
Shi Qinghua is the principal of the school.
"When they were small they played, not baseball, but a similar sport where they used a stick and a ping pong ball." Shi explained. "They didn't know this sport was called baseball."
Even though they were new to the game, the kids still had fun hitting balls and running the bases, often in the wrong direction, and being introduced to related American traditions: baseball cards and chewing gum.
Ripken's visit to China follows a U.S. government sponsored baseball training session for Chinese coaches last summer in the U.S.
China is eager to learn more about baseball in preparation for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Next year's games will likely be the last to have baseball and softball as Olympic sports. The International Olympic Committee voted to remove the sports because they lack global popularity.
Despite baseball's obscurity in some parts of the world, Ripken says he still has hope the game will catch on.
"I believe in the game of baseball," Ripken said. "Different sports have flourished all across the world. And, I think baseball has a good opportunity."
Ripken says he is not sure where he will go next in his quest to raise enthusiasm for the game. But, in a sign that baseball still has a chance on the world's playing field, Ripken says he has received invitations to hold baseball clinics in more than a dozen countries.