BEIJING – Cool heads staved off a potential international incident involving uniformed Chinese security guards and – of all things – the autograph of journeyman Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Chan Ho Park.
Less than an hour after the Dodgers and San Diego Padres played to a 3-3 tie at Wukesong Stadium on Saturday in the first Major League game in China, a group of about 40 fans of Korean descent converged at the door of the Dodgers clubhouse as Park exited, wanting their longtime national hero and countryman to sign balls, jerseys and caps.
Park, who started for the Dodgers and allowed one run in five innings, tried to oblige but was blocked by a string of green-clad guards, who locked arms and would not allow the pitcher to greet the fans. The boisterous fans pressed against the officers and Park became visibly upset, for several minutes refusing to board the Dodgers bus until having a chance to sign the items.
"These Korean people came a long way to see me and to get my autograph," Park said. "I'm not leaving without signing at least a few things."
Chan Ho Park pleads for his autograph-seeking fans to back up from uniformed Chinese security guards.
The officers were not aggressive, but they wouldn't budge, either. Park was just as stubborn, behaving as if national pride was at stake. Like the game, it was a stalemate.
"The guards were being instructed by plainclothes police officers," said a major league baseball official who was present. "The police officers were telling the guards to stand their ground and push into the fans."
Security officials convinced Park to return to the clubhouse, saying they would bring items there for him to sign. But the Chinese police officers did not go along with the plan, and Park emerged again, shouting to his fans to back up and disperse.
Another MLB official said the incident might have occurred because of a key cultural difference: The Chinese aren't accustomed to aggressive autograph seeking, and the guards might have believed they were protecting Park.
A protective barrier will be set up Sunday before the second and final game of the series.
"The important thing was that nobody got hurt and nobody was embarrassed, not the Chinese, and not baseball," the security official said.