For crowd, game is its cup of tea

Times Staff Writer

BEIJING -- Driving balls toward the empty metal bleachers behind the outfield wall during batting practice Saturday, Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp was admittedly worried.

“Really, I was,” Kemp said. “I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ ”

But a crowd that was officially counted at 12,224 gradually flowed into the Wukesong Baseball Stadium over the first two innings to watch the first major league baseball game in China, a 3-3 tie between the Dodgers and San Diego Padres. The two-game exhibition series concludes today.

“I guess it’s like any other Dodger game -- they don’t show up until the second inning,” Kemp said.


Responsible for the late arrivals -- “Where is everybody?” Padres closer Trevor Hoffman recalled asking himself -- was the tight security at the ballpark entrance. Inside, the government declared media credentials issued by the participating clubs invalid and issued its own. At one point before the game, reporters were warned that their notebooks would be confiscated if they didn’t stop their interviews.

Dodgers Manager Joe Torre, chuckling, asked General Manager Ned Colletti if the same could be done at Dodger Stadium.

Torre had to do some policing of his own when the game was over, intervening in a heated discussion between starting pitcher Chan Ho Park and baseball officials outside the Dodgers’ clubhouse. Park initially refused to board the team bus, insisting on signing items that a throng of Korean fans held over the heads of arm-linked security guards.

“They came from Korea to get an autograph,” Park told the group of Major League Baseball, team and security officials who banded against him. “I’m going to take a taxi back to the hotel.”


A Dodgers official eventually persuaded Park to tell the fans that he would sign autographs for them the next day.

Regardless of how heavy the security was before and after the game, what took place in between was a pleasant surprise to both teams, as players and coaches said the crowd was more vocal than expected.

“They cheered at the right times,” Hoffman said.

And the crowd booed when an announcement was made that the game would conclude at the end of the ninth inning.

“So they know enough about the game to know that a tie is not a lot of fun,” Torre said.

That Commissioner Bud Selig was in the ballpark, as he was when he called off the 2002 All-Star game after 11 innings with the score tied, was a source of amusement for Hoffman.

“I was there in Milwaukee,” Hoffman said, laughing. “Maybe it’s he and I at the same place, I don’t know.”

There were other odd sights and sounds.


The view of what was behind the outfield bleachers was certainly not something any of the Dodgers or Padres were used to seeing -- the concrete skeleton of a mammoth under-construction shopping mall in left, a basketball arena in center, wide high-rise apartment complexes in right.

Few sang along with the playing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch, the vocal element of the tradition replaced by dancing from scantily clad cheerleaders.

Asked whether he would like to see such entertainment at Dodger Stadium, Torre laughed and referred the question to owner Frank McCourt. “Or,” Torre said, “maybe Mrs. McCourt.”

As for the game itself, the standout in Torre’s eyes was Park, who continued to make his case to be the fifth starter by giving up one unearned run over five innings. Invited to camp as a nonroster player, Park hasn’t given up an earned run over 12 innings this spring. He said he has started using a new grip on his changeup, taught to him by Hoffman when he played in San Diego.

With Esteban Loaiza pitching well in recent outings -- and, more importantly, guaranteed $6.5 million this season -- Park faces an uphill climb to secure a spot in the rotation.

“I’m glad we have time to make up our minds,” Torre said. “If we had to make up our minds tomorrow, it would be tough. But we have time.”

Although Park left the ballpark frustrated because he wasn’t allowed to sign autographs for his countrymen, he at least had one of his desires fulfilled on this day, which was for his wife, Rie, to see him in a Dodgers uniform. They were married two years ago, by which time his days in Los Angeles were long behind him.

“It fits him well,” said Rie, who traveled from her native Tokyo to Beijing with her father. “I would like to see him in the uniform again at Dodger Stadium with [Japanese pitcher Hiroki] Kuroda.”


Park was handed a 1-0 lead in the third inning on a home run to right field by George Lombard, but the Padres pulled even in the fourth when an errant throw from catcher Lucas May to Park ended up rolling slowly to shortstop and allowed Oscar Robles to score.

The Dodgers were up, 3-1, but Craig Stansberry and Adrian Gonzalez had run-scoring doubles to tie the score in the bottom of the eighth.