Guthrie one of MLB's worldwide ambassadors
Royals pitcher witnesses growth of game in China, other countries
KANSAS CITY -- You can call Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie "Mr. Ambassador."
Or "Mr. MLB Ambassador" to be more precise because he was one of several players to represent Major League Baseball by teaching clinics and talking up the game in several countries this offseason.
Guthrie went to China earlier this month to teach at one of the development centers funded by MLB.
"I've taught baseball in Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, London, Barcelona, Madrid and now in China," he said.
"It's very interesting to see how international the game is. People just kind of take for granted it's in the United States and the Latin countries, but it's very big in Italy, very big in Holland, and it's growing in a number of other places. Obviously, it's very big in Japan. The game continues to grow."
In China, Guthrie said, it was the norm for athletes to train at schools devoted to sports apart from academics, but MLB is combining baseball with education at its centers.
"They bring in from 30 to 50 players and put them in school, they form a team and they practice almost daily. They try to develop the player as well as the student side of these kids in hopes that they could get a crack at playing professional baseball in the United States," Guthrie said.
The students are junior high and high school age, are recruited from around the country and stay in dormitories.
"The kids do academics as well as sports, so it's very unique for their country," Guthrie said.
Their baseball skill level is progressing.
"It's pretty good, they practice so much there. I told the players, 'You at your age are much more advanced than I was at that age,'" Guthrie said. "It doesn't mean that they're going to turn out better or worse, but they receive coaching every single day, and I played baseball 2 1/2 months a year. And it was an hour-and-a-half practice in the evenings and a couple of games a week.
"These kids get two and three hours per day and three or four games a week when it's in full swing in the summer. So they're playing much more baseball than I ever did at their age, and they're talented. So I certainly think that we'll see somebody playing professionally in the United States in the Minor Leagues sometime soon."
According to Baseball Reference, the only China-born player to reach the Majors was Harry Kingman, born in Tientsin to U.S. missionaries in 1892. He grew up in California and eventually played four games as a first baseman for the Yankees in 1914, going hitless in three at-bats.
Guthrie saw some raw talent.
"They're obviously having to go through growing pains. There was one pitcher, for example, who's 15 now and a tall kid at about 6-5 and up until three years ago he'd never seen a baseball before. Now they're teaching him to become a pitcher and slowly but surely it could click for him and he could be a power pitcher with a huge frame, or maybe not," Guthrie said. "There were a couple of players who stood out as very good and they played in the United States with some summer teams."
Earlier this offseason, Guthrie and Royals catcher Salvador Perez went to Spain and did some baseball ambassadorship on their own.
"Spain's the greatest place on earth. Not too hard to get him over there," Guthrie said. "We saw a lot of soccer matches, talked some baseball and had a blast. We met with a group in Barcelona and another group in Madrid."
Guthrie lived in Spain for two years from 1998-2000 as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"I love Spain, so I go back as often as I can, which usually means once a year and take the kids over there and give them a chance to see where Dad lived for two years and to hear another language," he said.
There are some perks, too, of being an MLB ambassador. He and his wife Jenny, while in China, got to fulfill a longtime dream -- a visit to the Great Wall.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.