Thursday, May 31, 2007

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I got an e-mail requesting my take on the baseball game I went to with friends.

First off, I heard about the CBL through Dan and his post a long time ago about the Shanghai Eagles. Then in April he wrote a post for Shanghaiist which included the Eagles' schedule for the 2007 season. Since I have a habit of putting stuff on Upcoming, I added every Shanghai home game and promised to myself that I'd go to at least one game. For me baseball is a nostalgic activity that reminds me of when I was a kid; I took Jodi to a Giants game on our honeymoon and it was great. Soon, May was drawing to a close and I noticed that the number of games left on my calendar was falling dramatically. I sent a mass (4 people) e-mail to friends, they dragged more friends into it, and soon we had a posse. After some help with directions from baseball nut Goose (pictured in the Shanghaiist post), we were off.

The directions are pretty simple: take the metro to Century Avenue, take exit 1, cross the street and walk south on Dongfang Road to the 980 bus stop. Take the 980 for a bout 25 minutes to Qihe Rd & Yunlian Rd. The stop is right next to the sports complex containing Pudong Baseball Stadium. Just walk ahead about 30 meters, around the corner, and into the gate. We left Century Avenue at about 1pm and arrived at the stadium at 1:45.

What I'd told people to expect was a minor league experience, and it was pretty close but even a little more ghetto. Entrance was free. The stadium was small and a little run down. To get to the bleachers, we walked through a room where several players were playing ping-pong before the game. There were a few rows of shady seats; we were lucky it was a lightly overcast day. No concession stands or vendors meant that we used the 45 minutes till the game at 2:30 to run to the convenience store and buy a case of bottled water, some potato chips, cookies and lychees. The view from the stands was pretty cool; over the tops of the apartments next door I could make out the Jinmao Tower, the World Financial Center being built next door, and the Pearl Tower floating behind the Nanpu Bridge.

Empty stands

The small crowd was about 2/3 Chinese and 1/3 white. There were even a couple Japanese kids chasing foul balls around the stands. I think the non-local crowd was more into the game as a leisure activity: the language used for cheers was almost 100% English, one group that came half-way through the game was a softball team that had just finished a league game on the field next door, and a family across the way solved the food problem by bringing their own BBQ

BBQ

As for the level of baseball, it wasn't great. I mean, it was obvious that these guys had picked up a baseball before and they knew all the rules (some of which I had forgotten and was glad to be reminded of) but in the end it wasn't the main reason I was happy I went. Luckily there were a few things to distract us enough to make the game go by pretty quick. First, Jodi and I invited a few friends who had never been to a baseball game before so I was engaged explaining the rules to them, which for baseball means quite a lot of explaining. Something like:

"He's out because he got three strikes. What's a strike? If he swings and misses it's called a strike, or if it's a good pitch (never mind explaining the strike zone) and he doesn't swing it's a strike, or if he hits it outside of the first or third base lines it's called a foul bowl and it's a strike. That is, unless it's the third pitch and then a foul ball doesn't count as a strike, it counts as nothing. Why did he run on the third strike? Oh, if the catcher drops the ball on the third strike the player has a chance to dash for first base..."

At the bat

Also never mind explaining forced outs versus tagged outs, the infield fly rule, how "points" are scored... It would be much simpler if this were soccer! Also serving to distract from the game were the inning-break promotional activities: the ceremonial first pitch, raffles for prizes, a race around the bases; bang-bang sticks sponsored by Mizuno were handed out for free, as were long string-bean balloons for a crowd balloon release...

Overall the experience got good reviews from everybody who went. For me it was really just a way to support a small, worthy and healthy cause in a way that was also reliving some nostalgic memories from my own past. For me the smallness of the crowd is a plus because it allows for a more immediate intimacy compared to a major league game. I was asked to compare the experience to Shanghai Sharks basketball games, and although I've never been I imagine the atmosphere must be similar in that they're both small, eclectic and awkward teams with something of a "cult following". If you go, do it for the same reason you'd rather see a show at Yuyintang (RIP!) than at Hongkou Stadium.

Fearless fans

Threat to third

Evening shadows

Pow wow

Oops

(Yes, Shanghai lost. I put all my pics on Flickr. John B also wrote a post on the game.)

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