Since I have moved to Arizona, I have been able to experience baseball in a whole new way. I have talked to team scouts, scouts with major media outlets, and countless coaches and players. I got to know the incredible hidden gem that is a minor league spring game on a back field and found the best spots to stand to make sure I get accurate velocity readings from the team’s radar guns.
Then Spring Training comes to an end and 125+ players for every team head off to the level they are assigned to, but that doesn’t mean the complexes go silent (they certainly get a lot quitter, but silent they are not). Instead, Extended Spring begins, and players get to spend another 2 1/2 months living in a hotel playing baseball every day in front of crowds that get dwarfed by little league fields around the corner.
Around baseball fields, you get used to hearing foreign languages, usually Spanish, but being so close to the Rangers, I often ran into groups of fans carrying signs and cardboard cutouts speaking Japanese as they get a glimpse of Yu Darvish getting in some cardio on his non-throw day. The Japanese fans are no longer here in Arizona, so I was surprised when I ran into a group of women on the way to the field speaking an Asian language the other day. It caught me by surprise because it wasn’t the Japanese I got somewhat accustomed to hearing, it was certainly something different.
As I look up toward the fields, one Rangers team is taking on the Seattle Mariners while the other Rangers squad is facing a team in all red uniforms and yellow writing across the chest. My mind immediately races through the teams who have spring complexes in Arizona, and then across the rest of baseball, and no team has this specific color combination. I go to grab the days rosters and lineups from the bins set out so media and scouts know who is who given players are not wearing names on the back of their jersey’s. One lineup shows the Rangers and Mariners logos, while the other has the Rangers logo and a yellow “C” with a red outline in Old English font.
Still thoroughly confused, I decide not to set up behind the radar guns and watch the field that features several players I am interested in getting a look at, but instead head over to the field where the group of women I passed earlier have settled in, along with three Rangers players and one other guy. I set up right behind the plate and look out at the pitcher wearing the all red jersey I am unfamiliar with and read the name printed on the front of the jersey, suddenly I realize it is the Chinese National Baseball Team.
I would love to be able to tell you more about the players, but I still can’t tell you who any of them are other than the pitcher had a big, healthy body that I would say projects well, if I had any clue his age. See, instead of the entire squad being made up of players that tend to be 21-years old or younger that I have become used to seeing in Extended Spring games, the Chinese team had a wide range of ages among their players. The catcher took off his mask to holler something out to his teammates, and looked to be at least in his mid-to-late 30s, while the first baseman couldn’t have been more than 22 or 23, nor was he taller than 5’11”.
I couldn’t tell you who played for the Rangers, I really didn’t pay attention, instead I just watched in curious awe. A tall white man, clearly American, jogs out to the mound to talk to the pitcher, but then someone else comes out quickly after him. Usually when another person follows the manager to the mound there is a pitching change, but instead, it was a translator. I then looked into the dugout to see there were at least three English speaking coaches and the Chinese translator runs back into the dugout to bounce back and forth between coaches to help relay the messages the coaches are trying to get across.
I couldn’t tell you what the score was, who won, or even if the game was competitive, which is the case for pretty much all the spring and extended spring games I have been to as I have focused more on players than the game as a whole, but this day was different. I not only didn’t care about the score, but I didn’t find myself caring who looked good and who didn’t, I simply sat back and enjoyed the oddity that was the Chinese National Baseball Team facing off against a Rangers minor league club in front of a crowd that totaled about a dozen.