BEIJING (AP) -With the sport set to disappear from the Olympics after 2008, baseball is trying to make sure it doesn't leave China.
Major League Baseball games are coming to China for the first time, with the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres to play exhibition games on March 15 and 16 at the baseball venue for the 2008 Olympics.
Baseball - like soccer, American football and basketball - is eager to crack the market in China, which has a population of 1.3 billion with a swelling consumer class keen to spend on foreign brands.
Unlike soccer and basketball, baseball and American football are invisible on playgrounds in China and absent from TV coverage.
``Hopefully we can help you develop a love for the game as we love it in the United States,'' San Diego Padres vice president Dave Winfield said at Thursday's announcement in central Beijing, which was also attended by new Dodgers manager Joe Torre.
The two exhibitions and the Olympics in Beijing give baseball a chance to show its appeal, with the sport dropped from the 2012 London Olympics but looking to return in 2016.
``There is personal disappointment that baseball won't be part of the Olympics in 2012,'' Winfield added. ``We'll do everything we can to keep baseball on the agenda and on your minds and keep making it part of the world, our gift to the rest of the world.''
Torre and Winfield promised that many of their top players would make the trip to Beijing. Both teams have concurrent spring training games in the U.S.
``We're making an effort to make it pretty equal - leaving back and bringing here,'' Torre said. ``Pitching is going to be the toughest consideration. You're going to be playing two games here and your are going to be playing six or seven games in Florida. But you are going to see front-line players.''
Added Winfield: ``We're not going to give you a bum roster.''
Torre and Winfield acknowledged that baseball needs to repair its image, sullied by allegations of widespread drug use in the game.
``Our success in Major League Baseball is based on the trust of the people,'' Torre said. ``And it is our job to regain that trust. And whatever it takes for us to do that, we have to be willing to do it.''
Added Winfield: ``It would be in the players' best interest not to be involved in them (drugs) any more.'' He said baseball was ``on the right track now. You will see that. Guaranteed.''
Gene Orza, chief operating officer of the MLB Players Association, said his members seemed enthusiastic about making the long trip to China.
``I haven't heard any players on the Dodgers or Padres - unlike any other international event I've been involved in - say they didn't want to come and play in China,'' Orza said. ``The players back in the States realize this is truly a start - a first step - in globalizing the sport.''
``It's only obviously a first step. It's a long way to go. But every long journey requires a first step.''

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