Brewers welcome Chinese Champions

A group of elite Chinese athletes studying at the University of Wisconsin–Madison got an inside look at America’s national pastime last week – while serving a few surprises for their hosts.

Fifteen members of the Chinese Champions Program, visiting UW-Madison for nine months of language and culture studies, attended the sold-out Milwaukee Brewers game against the Minnesota Twins on Saturday, June 25 as special guests of the club.

In a surprise clubhouse competition, table tennis player Zhang Yining took on three Brewers. The ten-time world champion traded volleys with All-Star Corey Hart, Cy Young winner Zack Greinke and John Axford.

“I’m pretty sure she was just toying with us,” joked Axford.

“The forehand is very good,” said Zhang, with a smile. “The backhand needs more practice.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise came from the broadcast booth. A chance encounter in the hallway led to a live radio interview between synchronized swimmer Shi Xin and famed announcer Bob Uecker during the game’s second inning.

Traveling from Madison, the Chinese Champions group started the day with a stop at the Pettit National Ice Center in Wauwatosa.  An Olympic training facility known for its speed skating oval, the center has also hosted elite curlers—a sure draw for the three members of China’s women’s curling team in this year’s cohort. Executive director Randy Dean, a former NFL player and Olympic handball athlete, welcomed the group.

At Miller Park, the athletes toured the clubhouse and mingled with players. Brewers COO and UW–Madison alumnus Rick Schlesinger led a talk on sports business – an apt topic since athletes are studying sports management in the United States. Afterward, the group watched batting practice and then enjoyed the game with dinner in a private suite.

Although basketball is popular in China, thanks to Chinese NBA stars such as Yao Ming, baseball remains less familiar. Conversely, Zhang Yining is a top celebrity in her home country but less well-known in the United States, where table tennis is considered more recreational.

The current Chinese Champions group, which includes multiple world champions and Olympic medal winners, is the second cohort in the university’s partnership with Beijing Sport University, the foremost sports, physical education and exercise science institution in China.

The athletes arrived on March 31 and will stay until mid-December, studying English, exercise science and other subjects while learning more about the United States and life at a major American university.

The Brewers featured photos of the event on

Fox Sports captured the clubhouse competition on video:

The event also received coverage in the Chinese media.

— by Susannah Brooks

The Brewers featured photos of the event on

Photos used with permission from the Milwaukee Brewers and MLB Advanced Media.
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