Yankees sending delegation to China

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NEW YORK (AP) – The New York Yankees are preparing for a wall even bigger than the one they see regularly at Boston’s Fenway Park.

Yankees president Randy Levine and general manager Brian Cashman will head a delegation that travels to Beijing next week for meetings that could lead to Major League Baseball establishing an academy in China.

“Everybody thinks that that is a great place to grow the sport of baseball,” Levine said Thursday. “There’s a real appetite for it. The Chinese want to move forward and expand their talents in the game and really make it a well-known, very active sport.” Beijing is host to the 2008 Olympics, the last one scheduled to include baseball. China went 0-3 last year at the inaugural World Baseball Classic, losing 18-2 to Japan, 10-1 to South Korea and 12-3 to Taiwan.

The Yankees’ delegation also will include assistant general manager Jean Afterman and Michael Tusiani, the Yankees’ vice president of corporate sales and sponsorships. Levine said they hope to see the Great Wall during the trip.

The team hopes to establish an agreement in which it would send coaches, scouts and player development staff to China, and have representatives of the Chinese Baseball Association come to New York and the team’s spring training complex in Tampa, Fla. Levine said baseball in China is in the “infancy stages,” and that the Yankees had been talking with the CBA for six months and were invited to make the trip.

“We intend to invest some serious man-hours and money in order to make this work,” Levine said. “This is paving the way for all teams.”

Jim Small, managing director Major League Baseball’s Tokyo office, will accompany the Yankees’ executives to China.

After the China meetings, the Yankees’ delegation will meet in Tokyo with management of the Yomiuri Shimbun, their Japanese partner, and will go to Okinawa, where the Hanshin Tigers will be holding spring training. The Yankees bought the rights to pitcher Kei Igawa from the Tigers last month.

“I think the power of the Yankee brand all over the world is what’s driving this,” Levine said.

China’s communist government won’t be an obstacle, Levine said.

“We’re about baseball. We’re not about politics,” he said. “We leave the politics to the diplomats and the world leaders.”

Cashman said the team’s front office would keep track of baseball business from the Far East.

“It’s not Mars,” Afterman said.

AP-ES-01-25-07 1940EST

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