A long way from sea level and ever farther from New Jersey, Rick Dell
is standing on a ballfield in the central Chinese city of Chengdu, not quite fathoming what he
Chengdu is famous for its pandas, but what is wowing Rick Dell
is its pitchers.
Surrounded by 47 Chinese ballplayers, most of them kids who didn't know a seam from a shortstop a few years earlier, Dell is admiring the long-limbed fluidity, the mechanical soundness, of one pitcher after another.
"It's almost beyond comprehension that the Chinese players could be as far advanced as they are after playing the game for such a short time," says Dell, whose day job is as baseball coach at the College of New Jersey in Trenton.
A sort of baseball Johnny Appleseed, Dell's
mission is to increase that number - and it's working.
has spent the past two summers in China, teaching the game and passing on his
love for it.
He'll make his
third trip next summer, when he
heads to Guangdong with a team of eight college and high school coaches.
says an acute shortage of knowledgeable coaches, and a dearth of game experience, are the biggest obstacles Chinese ballplayers have to overcome.
believes the establishment of the pro league will be an immense boost.
The plan is to expand the league to 10 cities within a few years.
will finally begin to be woven into the fabric of daily life.
"You have to have people for kids to emulate," Dell
, "In 20 years I don't think it will be uncommon to have Chinese players on major league rosters.
And when you consider the population base they have, they could, down the road, be as prominent in baseball as the U.S., Japan, Taiwan or the Latin American countries."
The paucity of game experience, for now, still makes the game go too fast for even the best Chinese ballplayers.
says it's common to see guys get panicky, to rush their movements.
That will subside the more they play.
It shouldn't take long.
was stunned when he
introduced a group of pitchers in Chengdu to the circle changeup and they were throwing it effectively three days later.