Liu Kai and Zhang Zhenwang don't speak much English, don't know anything about US culture and when asked which, if any, members of the pantheon of Yankees superstars they're familiar with, Liu said: "Randy Johnson."
But when the Chinese teenagers -- the first from China to be signed by a US Major League Baseball club -- were given Yankees caps and jackets by general manager Brian Cashman on Friday, the first thing each did was take the cap between his hands and bend the brim into just the right curve before putting it on.
Yep, they're ballplayers.
And it's not just the Yankees who have a stake in their future progress in the US. Whether either prospect -- Liu is a slim left-hander with nice spin on his breaking ball, Zhang a catcher who takes pride in throwing out baserunners -- ever makes it from the Yankees training base in Tampa, Florida to the major leagues, isn't as important as what they absorb along the way.
Major League Baseball, which approved the Yankees' efforts in the country, would like to see the world's most populous country become a baseball hotbed, too. And the more Chinese they can expose to the game, the better.
"Even though it wasn't that popular, I can't give it up" Liu said, recalling a childhood in which most of his friends played other sports.
Right now, baseball is a niche game in China, trailing far behind soccer and basketball in popularity. Because the country has excelled at sports and has more than four citizens for every US citizen, it has the potential to be a fertile ground for player development. It also has a growing middle class with the kind of discretionary income that creates a profitable market for the game.
"The only way that's going to happen is for us to assist that process," Cashman said. "The biggest impact that Major League Baseball can have is at the grassroots level."
Toward that end, the Yankees announced on Friday they'd be helping run a baseball camp for 12 year olds to 16 year olds. The team also will give a video pitching machine -- a high-tech device that simulates major league pitching -- to the Chinese Baseball Association.
This follows the agreement the Yankees came to with the association in January, which calls for the Yankees and the Chinese national team to exchange personnel and support each others' efforts to grow the game. Major League Baseball has also discussed the possibility of opening next season in China, as it has previously in baseball-mad Japan.
Commissioner Bud Selig and his office are very serious about the growth of this league internationally," Cashman said.
And it's Liu and Zhang who are at the forefront of the major leagues' attempts to pollinate baseball culture in China. Interest is far behind that in other east Asian nations like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan -- all of which have produced multiple big leaguers.
All four players signed by big league clubs have played in the China Baseball League, the country's top level of competition. Zhang's Tianjin Lions have played for the title every year since the league started in 2002, and won it in 2002, 2006 and last year.
Through an interpreter, Liu said that Zhang is "a very good catcher."
The two rarely get to see any US big league games in China -- understandable as the country is 12 hours ahead of New York in the summer, but they have occasionally watched on the Internet. It also makes some sense that the first Yankees star to come to Liu's mind was the "Big Unit." Johnson only spent two seasons with the Yankees, but he's been in the majors ever year of Liu's life.