By The IBA Baseball Reporter
Zhongshan, China – Following a couple of treasured months back home in Stratford, Tom Valcke will be flying back to Hong Kong on January 7th, where he spent most of 2018 coaching their national men’s team. Both parties knew that agreement would conclude on September 30th, 2018 as it was based on a special grant from the HK Olympic and Sport Federation that led to a work visa with the Hong Kong Baseball Federation. While there was interest from both sides to continue HK’s upward climb in the World Baseball Softball Confederation world rankings, which shot up from #41 to #28 in just seven months, a similar grant in 2019 still hadn’t materialized by the time December rolled around, so Valcke began to consider some similar opportunities for the next chapter of his 33-year career in the baseball industry.
As a result, this upcoming stop at the Hong Kong International Airport will just be in transit this time around, as Valcke will then board a ferry to mainland China en route to Zhongshan, a city officially designated as “China’s Baseball City,” where Valcke just visited from December 12-26 to sign his next contract. The Zhongshan Panda Baseball and Softball Corporation has been a pioneer since the nation’s long-awaited decision to finally take a serious interest in baseball. With the world’s largest population base of 1.4 billion people, it shouldn’t take China long to catch up to Asia’s big three, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, ranked #1, #3 and #4 in the world, respectively.
“China’s mission is to contend for a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games,” noted Valcke.
“Major League Baseball International has taken a strong interest in seeing China join the global baseball family, and there is a deep competitiveness in all sports between those four countries in particular, whose passion for baseball resembles Canada’s passion for hockey. Hong Kong was wonderful in many ways, but there is one regulation field in the whole country, and the government and corporate support for baseball simply doesn’t compare to the big four countries. Other than the amazing players I had the privilege of coaching, the passion just doesn’t exist. This is why Hong Kong was so pleased that we managed to make it to the fifth place game at the 2018 Asian Games, as the only realistic goal given our limited resources was to try to be the best of the rest.”
Valcke’s title will be the Executive Director and his initial responsibilities include the overall assessment and improvement of the coaches throughout the organization, roving from youth to adult divisions to help their understanding of proper mechanics, optimizing time and space in practices, in-game performance, and putting in place sensible and realistic year-round training programs. In the bigger picture, he will be developing plans and implementing the building of a new stadium, a one thousand-bed dormitory, a double-clover-leaf-eight-diamond training facility, a collegiate baseball academy, a national baseball hall of fame, and ultimately, land a professional team there make Zhongshan a true destination and to round out their goal of remaining the hub of baseball in China.
“We observed Tom’s whirlwind of success in Hong Kong, his zoom-in-lens eyes enable him to diagnose players and make corrections, as well as advance scout and create a gameplan in big tournaments. He treats the players and coaches with proper respect, and he has had experience in all of the areas we are pursuing in our expansion,” praised president Fong Sio Long.
“Tom has been in Asia more than two dozen times to teach baseball, proving his interest time and time again, he was a technical commissioner for the Beijing Olympic Summer Games, he was the general manager for the Triple-A Calgary Cannons, he ran the International Canadian Academy of Sports Excellence, and he was the president and CEO of Canada’s Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. That combined experience will enable us to get these upcoming projects right the first time.”
One difference between the Hong Kong contract is that the Zhongshan organization has built in return trips for both Valcke and his family to see each other regularly throughout the year.
“Being there without any family to come home to, ten to 12 hour days will be commonplace, so vacation time plus time in lieu will add up quickly,” added Valcke.
“They understand how close Paula, Alanna, Jaxon and Mia are to me, and that I’ll actually be more productive to China baseball if I have more regular contact with my family, so we literally built visits into the contract.”