The quintessentially American sport of baseball is becoming increasingly popular internationally, and US teams have established development centers all over the world to cultivate new athletes. Executives from Major League Baseball, the US professional league, are particularly excited about the game’s future in China: “All the ethereal things about baseball—no clock, the sacrifice, the journey around the bases that starts and finishes at home—it all resonates in Chinese culture,” said MLB executive Jim Small.
Xu “Itchy” Guiyuan has become the first athlete from one of the MLB’s three development centers in China to sign a contract with an MLB team in the US. The 19-year-old is joining the Baltimore Orioles under an international free agent deal.
The last China-born athlete to play in the US major leagues was Henry Kingman, the son of Christian missionaries, who played for the New York Yankees in 1914.
The MLB development centers in Wuxi, Changzhou, and Nanjing, China, have been churning out players for Chinese university teams since 2010. Xu is skipping university-level play to go straight to professional baseball. His contract with the Orioles will start with an assignment to one of the team’s minor league affiliates after being evaluated at the Orioles’ spring training camp in February 2016. Until then, he will keep training in China while finishing his high school coursework.