Welcome to Chinese Taipei
Updated: January 17, 2006, 3:57 AM ETBy Joe Connor | Special to ESPN.com
Feb. 26-March 2, site TBA
Exhibitions (in Tokyo)
Feb. 27 vs. Lotte, 9 p.m. ET Schedule (Pool A in Tokyo)
March 2 vs. Korea, 9:30 p.m. ET
March 4 vs. Japan, 4 a.m. ET
March 4 vs. China, 9 p.m. ET
Size: 13,731 square miles, or slightly smaller than Maryland and Delaware combined
Population: 23 million
People: Taiwanese (84%), Aboriginal (2%), Chinese (14%)
Language: Mandarin Chinese (official), Taiwanese (Min), Hakka dialects
Government: Multiparty Democracy
Capital: Taipei (population: 3 million)
Baseball (and other interesting) notes
Most known for: Most Little League World Series titles ever; passionate baseball fans; power pitchers; game-fixing scandals; tense history with China.
Quotable: "They [Taiwan-born players] don't play in as many games as [U.S. high school players], but they have played in more important games." -- Vincent Liao, Los Angeles Dodgers Manager of Chinese and Taiwanese Affairs
Famous national anthem verse: "Be earnest and brave, your country to save, one heart, one soul, one mind, one goal!"
Baseball's Taiwanese debut: Introduced by Japanese occupiers in late 1800s.
Taiwan's baseball hotbeds: All of Taiwan is a baseball hotbed.
Number of Taiwanese-born currently signed to MLB organizations: 11.
First Taiwanese-born player in MLB: Chin-Feng Chen, born in Tainan, played with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002.
Most notable MLB exports: Chin-Hui Tsao, Chien-Ming Wang.
Ones to watch in the future: Hong-Chih Kuo, Ching-Lung Lo.
Taiwan's baseball weather: Hot, hot and extremely wicked hot.
Biggest sports competitors: Basketball, golf, soccer.
Best baseball museum: Hong-Yeh (Maple Leaf) Little League Museum, Taitung County. (Hong Yeh was comprised of mostly poor aborigines from the Bunun tribe in a small rural village in southeastern Taiwan. During the Cold War of the 1970s, Taiwan dominated the Little League World Series as islanders huddled around televisions every August in wee hours of the morning to view a live feed from Lamade Stadium in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Taiwan won every Little League World Series from 1969-1981 except in 1970 and 1975-76).
Amateur and international competition
Number of Taiwanese playing organized baseball: About 12,000.
Amateur highlights and lowlights: 17 Little League World Series titles; finished third in hosting World Cup in 2001; also earned silver medal at 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
Biggest international rival: China.
Other important notes: Taiwan is the island of tournaments. While most U.S. amateurs play primarily a regular season schedule, Taiwan is single-elimination game central. During the four to five annual island-wide tournaments, players that perform well earn college scholarships, and winning high schools receive equipment, funding and prestige. The tournaments also serve as the main attraction for Major League Baseball scouts.
Contact information: Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) Baseball Association
16 Floor, 270 Chung Hsiao E Road, sec.4 Taipei City 106
Tel: (+886-2) 2711 8128 extension 152
Fax: (+886-2) 2711 5487
Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL)
Overview: The league, which began in 1990, is still recovering from the September 1997 conviction of 21 players, a coach and 12 others of various charges related to fixing games. In July 2005, a second game-fixing scandal unfolded, and is still playing out. Today, six teams play a roughly 100-game regular season from early-March to mid-October, with the campaign decidedly "two seasons." The playoff format dictates the winner of the first half play the winner of the second half in a seven-game "Taiwan Series" that fall. If the two half-season leaders are claimed by the same club, the team with the second highest winning percentage is the Taiwan Series challenger. CPBL teams usually play three to four games per week and therefore carry just three starting pitchers. Most games are played in the evenings because it's hot as holy hell during daylight. Each team is allowed up to three non-Taiwanese born players, with two of those playing at the same time
League Web site: http://www.cpbl.com.tw.
Teams/corporate entities (and the cities that host them): Brothers Elephants/hotel and Macota Cobras/bank (Taipei); Uni-President Lions/retail chain (Tainan); Sinon Bulls/agricultural products (Taichung); China Trust Whales/bank (Chiayi) and La New Bears/shoemaker (Kaohsiung).
Most successful franchise: Elephants, who have the strongest fan base throughout the island, have won eight titles.
Biggest rivalry: Elephants and Lions.
Famous alums (with MLB ties): Melvin Mora; Ben Weber.
Notable record breakers: Chang Tai-Shan, youngest player to hit 100 home runs and knock in 500 RBI in league history; Osvaldo Martinez of the Dominican Republic broke the CPBL strikeout mark when he fanned his 856th batter on Taiwan soil in 2003. MLB talent-level comparison: High Double-A (on a good day); Single-A (on a bad day)..
Show me the money: Most foreign-born players are paid monthly salaries, under $100,000, and receive free housing from their team during the season.
Best ballparks: Each of the six teams have a home base, but many games are played in another half-dozen ballparks so every Taiwan citizen gets a chance to enjoy professional baseball. Most ballparks range in capacity from 10,000-15,000, and all were built by the government. Like South Korea, and unlike Japan, Taiwan boasts mostly grass fields and no domed ballparks, although a few of them feature all-dirt infields. Tainan Stadium features the best playing field, but makes airplane flights above the New York Mets' Shea Stadium seem tame. Planes fly much lower above Tainan's throwback ballpark than at Shea. At Taichung Stadium, men never miss any of the action, with open windows inside its restroom enabling those relieving themselves to peer out and follow the game. Hsinchu Stadium has a Wrigley Field quality, with apartment balconies overlooking both the first and third base sides. Cheng-Ching Lake Field in Kaohsiung is the largest ballpark, hosting 20,000 plus. Most Taiwan ballparks have field dimensions essentially similar to the majors, roughly 320 feet down the lines and 400 feet to straightaway center.
Best ballpark food and drink: Taiwan's culinary baseball experience is unique, with the choice of delicacies depending on what city you're in. In Kaohsiung, it's "meat bum," essentially meatballs covered by deep-fried bread flour. In Taichung, fans take to the nearby market before the game, and in Hsinchu, famous for its rice noodles, you'd be remiss without also trying "Tson Yio Bin," a delicious green onion pancake cast in flour that is heated and then served.
Ballpark atmosphere: Decidedly North American, college basketball-style. Taiwanese baseball fans love to wave flags, pound drums, yell into bull horns and blow trumpets and air horns. They also like to dress up in elaborate consumes, complete with headgear and long robes with their favorite teams' colors.
Wildest entertainers: One of the most interesting sites is when the Brother Elephants are in action, with their fans clad in yellow, the team's primary uniform color. The Lions and Bulls also have large contingents of fans in which a "leader" with a microphone will inspire the troops with chants such as "Da Na! Da Na! Da Na!" to encourage the batter to get a base hit. And unlike in Japan and Korea, these rabid fans don't just cheer when their team is batting, they cheer on every pitch -- literally.
Taiwanese speak: Third baseman Chang Tai-Shan is known as "Prince of the Forest" because his last name translated means "Tarzan." Former big leaguer-turned-Taiwanese-strikeout king Osvaldo Martinez is named "Yung-Chuang," which means "brave and strong."
Other unique traditions: Before the first pitch, the six-team umpire crew will bow to the crowd to show their appreciation for the fans' attendance. ... Following the final pitch, a "Most Valuable Player" is chosen by Taiwan's beat reporters, and the MVP briefly addresses the crowd via microphone before flinging a stuffed animal to one lucky fan. Prior to that, both teams shake hands and bow together to the fans -- a symbolic gesture thanking them for their patronage.
Only in Taiwan: A baseball scene is depicted on Taiwan's NT$ 500 note. ... A professional baseball team (the Elephants) has its own team café and retail store, selling everything from player-branded boxer shorts to stuffed animals of "Pinky," one of the teams' sponsors -- in a city two hours from where it's based. ... Stealing with a runner on first base is commonplace, even sometimes in the eighth inning with the score, 7-1. They'd love Rickey Henderson here in his prime.
Joe Connor is a contributor to ESPN.com. He has a Web site at www.modernerabaseball.com.