WASHINGTON -- The Pirates are interested in having part of their 2008 spring training in China, CEO Kevin McClatchy said yesterday, shortly after returning from a tour of that nation with three other Major League Baseball executives.
"Yeah, I think there's a chance," McClatchy said by phone from New York, where he will meet the Pirates for their weekend series at Yankee Stadium. "We haven't talked about any specific teams, but it's something we would be interested in. I think it's something we should take a look at."
Several teams have expressed interest with MLB in going to China, but only McClatchy, San Diego Padres CEO Sandy Alderson and Boston Red Sox president Larry Lucchino -- all members of MLB's international committee -- accompanied Bob DuPuy, MLB's CEO, on the trip last week.
DuPuy has said that MLB is determined to have some teams play exhibition games in China next spring in advance of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, partly to call attention to its attempt to gain reinstatement to the Olympics, partly to showcase the sport in a nation that knows little about it. It is possible that whichever teams go to China will open their regular season with a series in Japan, though that is far from firm.
McClatchy said he would confer with general manager Dave Littlefield on the matter, but he made clear his initial feeling of being in favor.
"If this happens, I think it would be a great experience for a lot of folks in our organization and that it would help expose our team to that part of the world," McClatchy said. "But it's something we'd all need to discuss. I'd need a lot of input from people on the baseball side."
The Pirates played exhibitions in Mexico in 2001 and Cuba in 1967, but they never have been to the Far East.
McClatchy said his trip was "fascinating, educational in a lot of ways," and he is optimistic that baseball can experience a boom there similar to what basketball has enjoyed since Yao Ming joined the NBA's Houston Rockets.
"We've seen the results of opening up our game to other countries," McClatchy said. "Look at Japan. Once you see their players in the majors, you find more players, and you open up all kinds of revenue possibilities, from television to merchandise to marketing. There is a fairly substantial revenue stream there and, if we're successful one day in getting Chinese players in the majors, it will have a significant impact."
Finding those players, he added, likely will not happen soon.
"It's going to take time. But you've got 400 million people under the age of 20, which means, potentially, there are a lot of baseball players there. And we have to help in promoting the game and getting more people to play it."
McClatchy and the other officials also toured Beijing's baseball facilities being built for the next Olympics. Those Games will be the last for baseball and softball, as the International Olympic Committee ruled out each sport for 2012 largely in frustration that major-league players would not participate in baseball.
MLB officials, including the ones on the trip, are pushing for reinstatement, though it is unclear how the IOC's wish might be satisfied.
"There is discussion, an ongoing effort to get baseball reinstated, and I think it's something that can be done," McClatchy said. "It is tough for us to close our sport down for two weeks to go off and do the Olympics, and I think the World Baseball Classic was a great success in filling that void for us while playing the games during spring training. But we're still going to work toward getting back into the Olympics."