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Major League Baseball has plans for China

TOKYO (AP) _ Major League Baseball is heading to China.

In Japan for an All-Star tour, baseball officials said Friday the sport will open an office there within a month to help promote the game in a nation that has a population of more than 1.3 billion.

``Obviously, there is tremendous potential there,'' said Jim Small, vice president of market development for MLB.

Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, also said there was a possibility MLB could play its regular-season opener in Beijing one day.

``Nothing has been discussed or formulated yet,'' he said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. ``It depends upon facility preparedness, sponsor availability, government (China) support, industry (club) support, MLBPA support, television interest and a lot of things falling into place.''

The International Olympic Committee last year voted to remove baseball and softball from the 2012 London Olympics, but both sports will be played at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. That year could be a possible target date for a season opener in China

``I did not suggest 2008 was likely _ only said we would like to do so as soon as possible,'' DuPuy said.

MLB is hoping that baseball can one day become as popular in China as it is in other Asian nations such as Japan and South Korea.

``The Chinese are very competitive and we're hoping they will want to catch up with countries like Japan in this area,'' Small said.

MLB already hired former major leaguer Jim Lefebvre to manage China's national team, and the sport plans to hold season-opening games in China in the near future.

In March, China was one of four teams in the Asian bracket of the inaugural World Baseball Classic. The Chinese didn't win a game, while the Japanese won the tournament.

San Diego Padres chairman John Moores and chief executive officer Sandy Alderson have traveled to China in the past year to study the feasibility of opening the season there and perhaps starting a baseball academy to develop Chinese players.

MLB has twice held regular-season games in Japan, in 2004 when the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays opened the season here, and in 2000 when the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs played in Tokyo Dome.
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