The New York Yankees baseball team has signed two Chinese players to its minor league, making the Yankees the first U.S. team to sign a Chinese player with the approval of China's official baseball association. Victoria Cavaliere reports for VOA's New York Bureau that the Yankees say they hope this is the start of a growing relationship with Chinese baseball.

Nineteen-year old pitcher Kai Liu and 19-year old catcher Zhenwang Zhang were introduced by the Yankees at the team's stadium in New York Friday. The two players signed contracts in June to play for the Yankees' minor league. Minor league baseball is a second tier professional league. The Yankees' major league team has won the World Series 26 times, making it the most successful sports franchise in North American sports history.

Yankees President Randy Levine says he hopes Kai and Zhenwang are the first in a long line of Chinese players in U.S. baseball. He says he is enthusiastic about growing a relationship with the Chinese Baseball Association, the CBA. "Our goal in entering into the working agreement with the CBA is to develop baseball in China. Together with the CBA we have been working very hard and very diligently at that task."

Kai, who is from Guangdong Province, and Zhenwang, from Tianjin, were welcomed to the team with Yankee baseball caps and jackets. Yankee scouts discovered the players last year while they were playing for China's national team.

The two young players are still waiting for U.S. work visas. When they are cleared, they will head to a training camp in the southern U.S. state of Florida. Brian Cashman, Senior Vice President of the Yankees, says he sees a bright future for both players, including the chance to play in the major leagues.

"I see this endeavor as successful in one of two ways. Where these players eventually become major league baseball players here in the United States and be successful at it, or they will learn a great deal about this game and be able to share that and return to China and assist in growing the game."

The Yankees also announced the team will help fund and sponsor a baseball training camp in China in order to coach promising 16 to 24-year olds.