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Play ball

Play ball

Rick Dell’s passion for baseball takes him around the globe.

There’s a baseball term for guys like Rick Dell ’82, who went to his first Yankees game at the age of six, who excelled on the field through high school and college, who won a record 708 games in 25 years as the head baseball coach at The College of New Jersey, and who, since 2007, has been Major League Baseball’s point man in Asia, in charge of developing players and promoting the game across the continent. They’re called lifers, and Dell wears the term like a badge of honor.

As the MLB’s general manager for baseball operations in Asia, Dell is based in Beijing and travels frequently in China, employing what he calls his “survival” Chinese language skills. Dell moves throughout Asia with routine, to baseball-crazy countries such as Japan and South Korea, and to up-and-comers like Pakistan and the Philippines (where, Dell points out, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig played during a traveling all-star exhibition in 1934). He’s done extensive work in Taiwan, overseeing elite player camps and all-star tours, and he consults with MLB’s office in India, a country to which he’s traveled 19 times.

Focused on a continent where most young people are not exposed to the game until they’re 12 or 13, Dell’s mission is fairly simple: “We’re looking to get more people — boys and girls, softball players, and baseball players — with a ball, bat, and glove in hand, getting the experience of playing,” he says.

Dell was a known quantity in MLB circles long before he began his current job. Starting in 1995, while still the head coach at TCNJ, he worked for the league as an envoy coach, running summer baseball camps and clinics across the globe. He started in Europe — in Italy, Holland, and Germany — but eventually conducted clinics in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and 16 countries in Asia. The experience inspired his passion for international baseball. To date, Dell says, he’s had his passport stamped in 79 countries.

In 2009, two years after Dell began his full-time service with America’s pastime, MLB opened its first year-round player development center in Wuxi, China. Since then, two more year-round academies have opened in the country. And Dell’s efforts have begun to bear fruit. “We’ve had over 60 players go on to play for colleges and universities in China, Europe, and the United States,” he says. “In the last two years, 18 players have been offered baseball scholarships in the United States.” In the past few years, Dell says, MLB teams signed seven Asian players, among them the Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels, the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2021.

“I had a job that I loved,” Dell says, referring to his historic tenure at TCNJ, “and then I got my dream job. I’ve been in baseball now for 42 years, and that’s pretty cool.”

Spoken like a true baseball lifer.

Picture: Peter Murphy

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