China National Baseball League takes a swing at fresh start

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Lu Yi, left, takes a swing during the first round of 2019 China National Baseball League in Tianjin, Aug 15, 2019. [Photo/Xinhua]

China National Baseball League (CNBL), a rebranded fully-fledged professional program, was officially established in Tianjin on Thursday. Two teams Tianjin and Beijing played in the season opener.

As baseball returns to the Olympics at next year's Tokyo Games, the Chinese Baseball Association (CBA) is optimistic that the relaunch of the league will bring attention back to the game in a market that shows signs of being ready to embrace it.

"After years of the sport being popularized and integrated into pop culture and now re-entering the Olympics, it's time to try to build up to the top of the pyramid," Chen Xu, president of the CBA, said at the league's launch ceremony in Beijing on Aug 5.

According to Chen, the re-branding of the association starts afresh, with a greater commitment and confidence that this new program is going to be different.

"Over the next 15 years, we are looking to build the CNBL into a mature league with a modern professional system that appeals to talent from neighboring countries," Chen added.

The new CNBL becomes the league with the fewest teams in any sport in China – only one short of the five-club Chinese Ice Hockey League, which was launched in late July.

Created in 2002, the competition was suspended twice previously in 2012 and 2017 due to lack of funding and exposure.

To make the CNBL more than just a week-long tournament, the CBA will have the same four original teams - namely Beijing, Tianjin, Guangdong and Jiangsu - play 18 rounds of home and away games over seven weeks.

The top two teams after the regular rounds will face off in a best-of-five championship final in late October.

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