U.S. professional baseball's Baltimore Orioles organization has signed Chinese infielder Xu Guiyuan, 19, to a professional contract, the first such signing since Major League Baseball opened developmental centers on the Chinese mainland in 2009.
The international free agent deal for Xu — known in major league baseball circles as "Itchy" — covers 2016 and places him in the Orioles' minor league developmental organization.
Orioles Executive Vice President Dan Duquette is quoted by MLB.com as saying the 1.8-meter, 85-kilo (5-foot-11-inch, 187-pound) Xu has "been working hard" at the developmental center, "and we hope he'll be the first of many future MLB [Major League Baseball] players from China."
Duquette went on to praise Xu's athletic prowess, saying he has "very good" left-handed batting power, which he believes will be effective at Baltimore's Camden Yards ballpark. The park's right-field wall is just 97 meters (318 feet) from home plate.
Xu won Most Valuable Player honors in the China National Youth Baseball League in 2012 and 2014. He also was an MLB Taiwan Elite Camp All-Star in 2013 and 2014. He won China's National Youth Baseball League home run derby in 2012.
MLB.com said Xu inherited the nickname "Itchy" after identifying Japanese baseball legend Ichiro Suzuki as his baseball idol.
Experts cite China's rich baseball history in the first half of the 20th century, with Chinese teams traveling to the United States to compete. U.S. All-Star teams that included Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig reciprocated, playing exhibition games on the mainland in the 1930s.