The Hiroshima Carp are developing a pitching academy in the Chinese province of Guangdong in cooperation with a local team, the first such attempt by a Japanese professional baseball team.

Two officials from the Central League team went to Guangdong in September to inspect China’s baseball abilities and facilities, and the next month signed a friendship agreement with the Chinese team in the provincial capital of Guangzhou.

“The (Chinese) levels are those of Japanese high school baseball teams, but Chinese players are speedy and have strong arms,” said Yoshihisa Shiratake, a scout for Hiroshima who has spent time in Guangdong. “They will become strong if they trained for the Beijing Olympic Games.”

China inaugurated a professional baseball league in 2002 to encourage the sport ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

In November, Hiroshima invited the Guangdong team’s captain and others to Nichinan, Miyazaki Prefecture, where the team ran a training camp.

In March, Hiroshima sent acting coach Kenji Furusawa and trainee players from the Dominican Republic to the Chinese baseball league.

At the end of May, the Japanese and Chinese teams agreed to set up the Guangdong Pitchers Academy and plan to have it become operational by the end of this year.

After Japan’s baseball season ends, Shiratake and other Hiroshima officials will go to Guangzhou to evaluate players between the ages of 14 and 18 from across China.

Hiroshima already has a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, created in 1990. It produced Alfonso Soriano, now a star player for the Texas Rangers in the U.S., and other solid players.

But Carp official Kiyoaki Suzuki said: “We have yet to recover the capital invested. Players fostered have been taken away by U.S. agents, discouraging us.”

The team has been studying the cost-effectiveness of such academies.

Soriano, who was born in San Pedro de Macoris in 1976, was discovered by Hiroshima when he was 16 and entered the academy.

In 1997, he was elevated to the Carp but quit a year later over a salary dispute.

He went to the United States to join the New York Yankees and later ended up with the Rangers.

Baseball in Japan is hurting. The number of nonprofessional teams is on the decline, and the best pro players are moving to the United States.

“We would like to expand the range of baseball in Asia and increase the number of places where Japanese players can be active,” Suzuku said. “If the levels are up, we can form a Far Eastern league jointly with South Korea and Taiwan, opening up a new market.”

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