Sports have an incredible way of bridging divides, and one local man, Jim Lefebvre, former MLB player and manager, saw this as he became the ambassador of baseball to the nation of China. And this week he’s training a group of Chinese baseball players here in the Coachella Valley.
But in order to understand how it began, we have to go back more than a decade, when Lefebvre had an inspired conversation with the Sports Minister of China.
"He said something that was so beautiful," Lefebvre tells KMIR Sports of the initial conversation with the Chinese Sports Minister. "As we sat there enjoying one another, he said, ‘if we just got to know each other, the world would be a better and safer place for everybody…And that’s what resonated with me… How sport brought two cultures, diametrically opposed, some people say, but we came together as a team… And it was a beautiful thing to see and it just kept growing and growing and these kids are here because of that."
Jim Lefebvre is not only a 2-time World Series champion and the 1965 Rookie of the Year, he’s also the man Major League Baseball called upon to deliver the American past time to China.
After years of successful cultural development through the game of baseball in the world’s most populous nation, Lefebvre took on the roll of manager for the Chinese national team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
And today, he’s teaching baseball to a traveling group of Chinese players and helping them experience much more.
"They come here to play the sport, go to the universities, the national parks so they can get an idea of what our culture is," Lefebvre says. "And they found out that the United States is a mixture of cultures."
The coach of the Chinese players, Kang Kang agreed. "Baseball is just like a part of life, so they know some people, know some countries, through baseball," he says.
This is the 3rd year this team has made this overseas trip and Kang says it’s created an incredible opportunity for his young athletes.
"The first year, it was like, where’s my mom, where’s my father, it’s completely changed their method," he says. "Their thinking, the way and how they see the world."
13-year old Steven Zhao agrees.
"We have very hard training and it’s very helpful for our skill development," he says.
And as though seeing Dodgers Stadium, the USC campus and much more weren’t enough, pitching icon Tommy John is coached them Wednesday night in Indio as well.