Looking to spread baseball abroad

By Evan Drellich
Updated: December 9, 2010

NEW YORK — Three of baseball’s best will spend their offseason as ambassadors of the game, darting around the globe in an effort to grow baseball internationally.

The Brewers’ Prince Fielder will visit China and Japan, the Rangers’ C.J. Wilson will head to South Africa, and the Yankees’ Curtis Granderson will travel to New Zealand as part of the Major League Baseball International Ambassador Program.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity to go to Asia to promote and share the game I love,” Fielder said. “I went to Japan for the first time as a kid and have always wanted to go back. To also be able to see China for the first time, and how baseball is viewed there, is going to be special.”

The Ambassador Program utilizes the popularity of current and former MLB players to bring the game to fans all over the world. Past MLB International Ambassadors include Cal Ripken Jr., Bo Jackson, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Al Leiter, and many others.

Joining the group is Fielder, who’s totaled 112 home runs the last three seasons and will become just the second current MLB player to tour China promoting baseball.

In Beijing from Dec. 10-14, Fielder will take part in grassroots initiatives, make media appearances and attend charitable events. On Dec. 13, he’ll visit Wanquan elementary school, the 2010 Diamond Cup Champion of the MLB International Play Ball! Program. Play Ball!

introduces baseball into schools’ physical education curriculums.

Fielder heads to Tokyo for five days after Beijing. There, he’ll make an appearance at a middle school to visit with baseball players and attend an event at the MLB Café, the first Major League Baseball-themed restaurant.

He’ll also participate in a panel discussion for the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, where he will join Japan’s first MLB player, Masanori Murakami, in a session titled “Two Countries, One Passion: A Look at Baseball in America & Japan.”

In January, Wilson heads to South Africa, where he’ll participate in clinics for youth and professional-caliber players, including eight members of Team South Africa from the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

Wilson, whose visibility rose greatly in 2010 during the Rangers’ run to the World Series, will be working with the MLB Coach in Residence in South Africa, Mike Randall.

“I’m really excited to have the opportunity to travel to South Africa and spread some of the enthusiasm I’ve got for baseball to the kids there,” Wilson said. “Going to the World Series this year has opened my eyes to the reach and possibilities to expand the game into new global markets.”

“Since I’m going to be experiencing Cape Town for a few weeks, I’d be let down not to see the baseball over there, and hopefully my positive attitude as a player can be translated across the ocean.”

Curtis Granderson’s New Zealand tour also begins in January. A veteran MLB International Ambassador, Granderson started with the program in 2006 and will be making his fourth trip.

He’ll host clinics and will attend part of the Baseball Confederation of Oceania Under-16 tournament, which determines which nation will represent the Oceania region at the Under-16 International Baseball Federation World Championships.

Granderson’s visited England, the Netherlands, Italy, South Africa and China with the program in the past.

“It is always an honor to be able to represent Major League Baseball while working to not only teach others the game of baseball, but to also help this great sport grow on a global scale,” Granderson said.

“Baseball New Zealand has a strong foundation in place and has access to some of the greatest athletes in the world. I am looking forward to working with them and assisting in any way possible to make baseball a strong national sport.”

It’s been a busy offseason for the Ambassador Program. In November, Orioles pitcher Rick VandenHurk led a group of MLB players on a tour of his native Netherlands.

In tow were John Baker of the Marlins, Greg Halman of the Mariners, and Orioles teammates Jeremy Guthrie and Adam Jones. Brady Anderson, a former O’s player, served as an instructor.

“These trips are important for the future of MLB,” Granderson said.