Field of dreams for orphans and migrant children

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Dreams are cocooned in the most unlikely places. The gray low-rise building in the backyard of a school in southwest Beijing is one such incubator. Its walls are yellowed with age and the paint has started peeling. A few meters away, an equally battered signboard is the only indication that this shabby building is any different from the rest of the school complex.

A young player takes pride in his budding baseball skills.

 A young player takes pride in his budding baseball skills.

This is the Beijing Xinxing Longren Baseball Club.

It is no ordinary baseball club, and a patient trudge up to a third floor dormitory reveals a wall lined with countless trophies - including one declaring the club champions of last month's 28th Boys Nankyu Baseball World Championships in Japan.

This is the first time China has won the championship in 11 years and the man responsible for this glorious achievement is Li Wei, the coach and owner of the baseball club.

Here in this little room, the coach's desk fights for space with his personal possessions, fruits, food and medicine stocked up for the players' use. Scattered about too, are the club's many prizes and awards.

On the wall of the corridor is a group photo taken after the team won the National Junior Championships a few years ago. A poster documenting the history of the six-year-old club sits next to pinups of Major League Baseball (MLB) stars such as Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees - a proclamation of the young team's big ambitions.

For Yang Yanyong, these dreams were non-existent when he first arrived at the club in 2004. He knew nothing about baseball, let alone its iconic stars in the US.

When the then 10-year-old was asked to run as fast as he could to a tree in the playground, he did not realize the 50-m dash was the first step toward dignity and dreams.

The man who told Yang to run was Li Wei. He was out talent-spotting players in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia and Yang proved to be the fastest of the lot.

But when Li asked the boy how tall his parents were to try to estimate what the child's height will be when he was fully grown, the young man hung his head. He didn't know.

Yang was an orphan, and he had started lessons at the school just a few days before Li Wei arrived.

"That finally made up my mind about bringing him back to Beijing," Li says. He had decided to give the child a chance to make a career out of baseball and Yang became one of the first three players to be taken under his tutelage.

Li's faith in Yang was not misplaced. After five years training under Li, Yang signed with the Shanghai Eagles in the Chinese Baseball League last year. Although the Eagles finished sixth out of seven in the just-concluded domestic league, the 16-year-old Yang is now a key player on the squad and is expected to play for the national team sooner or later.

"This is totally beyond my imagination. I knew nothing about baseball. I am an orphan and I didn't know I could have a dream," says Yang, now a student in senior high school.

He has set his sights on Major League Baseball and his idol is Ichiro Suzuki, the Japanese player batting for the Seattle Mariners who has already scored a number of records in the league.

As for Li Wei, he is more determined than ever after attending a training session for coaches conducted by MLB in 2007. The course reinforced his beliefs by showing how baseball can change the life of troubled teenagers and he is going all out in his talent quest among orphans and the children of migrant families.

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