Commentary

Welcome to Chinese Taipei

Updated: March 4, 2009, 2:11 PM ET
By Joe Connor | Special to ESPN.com

QUICK FACTS

Most Known (outside baseball) For Its … Love of gambling; and dicey relationship that forces it to play under the banner "Chinese Taipei."

Location: Eastern Asia, islands bordering the East China Sea, Philippine Sea, South China Sea, and Taiwan Strait, north of the Philippines, off the southeastern coast of China

Size: 13,731 square miles, or slightly smaller than Maryland and Delaware combined

Population: About 23 million

People: Taiwanese (84%), Aboriginal (2%), Chinese (14%)

Language: Mandarin Chinese (official), Taiwanese (Min), Hakka dialects

Government: Multiparty Democracy

Capitol: Taipei (population: about 3 million)

Famous National Anthem Verses: "Be earnest and brave, your country to save, one heart, one soul, one mind, one goal!"; alternate version, played at international competitions, known as the "Flag Raising Song" -- "With one heart and one spirit, keep pressing to the goal! Blue Sky, White Sun, and a Wholly Red Earth!"

QUICK BASEBALL HISTORICAL FACTS

Most Known In Baseball For …: Most Little League World Series titles ever (besides U.S. teams); passionate baseball fans; power pitchers; game-fixing scandals in its pro league.

Baseball's Taiwan Debut: Introduced by Japanese occupiers in late 1800s.

First Taiwanese-born to play MLB: Chin-Feng Chen: Tainan, Taiwan (Los Angeles Dodgers, 2002).

Best Taiwan Baseball Town: Tainan (birthplace of four players to play MLB)

Taiwan's Other Baseball Hot Spots: Most of Taiwan is a hot bed, namely, Taipei, Taitung, Taichung, Kaohsiung, Hualien and Pingtung, among others.

Taiwan's Baseball Weather: Mostly hot, hot and extremely wicked hot.

Biggest Sports Competitors: Basketball, golf, soccer.

Best Baseball Museum: Hong-Yeh (Maple Leaf) Little League Museum, Taitung County.

Distinctly Taiwanese: A baseball scene is depicted on Taiwan's NT$ 500 note.

QUICK TEAM CHINESE TAIPEI AND PLAYER FACTS

Biggest International Rival: China

Biggest International Successes: This island with 23 million owns 17 Little League World Series (ages 11-13) titles; 17 Senior League World Series (ages 14-16) titles; and, you got it, 17 Big League World Series (ages 16-18) titles. In Pony League World Series baseball, Taiwan has won the Bronco division (ages 11-12) four times and the Pony division (ages 13-14) five times. It's also won the Palomino division (ages 17-19) of Pony League baseball once, as well as one title each in the "AA" Youth World Championship (age 16 and under) and "AAA" Junior World Championship (under 18 years of age), both managed by the International Baseball Amateur Federation.

And still more success for the little island that can. Taiwan earned a silver medal at the 1992 Olympics, falling only to Cuba. It also finished third in hosting the amateur World Cup in 2001.

Ones To Watch For In MLB In The Near Future: Wei-Cheng Huang and Meng-Hsiu Tsai (both Braves).

2006 WBC showing: Taiwan went 1-2, failing to advance to the quarterfinals, and it has a new roster for 2009.

Back from the 2006 WBC team: None

Gone from the 2006 WBC team: Hong-Chih Kuo and Chin-Lung Hu (both Dodgers).

Now on 2009 WBC team: Che-Hsuan Lin (Red Sox prospect); Yen-Wen Kuo (Reds prospect)

Missing in action from the 2009 WBC team: Chien-Ming Wang (Yankees)

PLAY BALL -- IN CHINESE TAIPEI!

Chinese Professional Baseball League Overview: Starting in 2009, there will only be four teams in the CPBL, as one team, Dmedia T-REX (formerly Macota Cobras/bank) was kicked out for a game-fixing scandal, and another, China Trust Whales/bank (Chiayi), folded. CPBL teams usually play three to four games per week and therefore carry just three starting pitchers.

Most Successful Franchises: Elephants and Lions have each won the title six times.

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's 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.

Best Ballparks: Although each of the teams boasts a home base, one of the most unique aspects is that many games are played in another half dozen ballparks so every Taiwan citizen gets a chance to enjoy professional baseball. Tainan Stadium features the best playing field, but makes airplane flights above the New York Mets stadium seem tame. Planes fly much lower above Tainan's throwback ballpark! At Taichung Stadium, men never miss any of the action, with open windows inside its restroom enabling those relieving themselves to peer out through open windows to never miss any baseball action. Hsinchu Stadium has a Wrigley Field quality, with apartment balconies overlooking both the first and third base sides.

Ballpark Food & Drink: What makes the Taiwan culinary baseball experience unique is the choice of delicacies depends on what city you happen to be 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: Taiwan 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 South Korea, these rabid fans don't just cheer when their team is batting  they cheer on every pitch  literally!

Other Unique Traditions: Before first pitch, the umpire crew will bow to the crowd to show their appreciation for the fans' attendance& Stealing with a runner on first base is commonplace, even sometimes in the eighth inning with the score, 7-1! Rickey Henderson, baby, they'd have loved you here!...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. Before then, both teams shake hands and have bowed together to the fans  a symbolic gesture thanking them for their patronage&

Joe Connor is a contributor to ESPN.com who has visited more than 30 baseball countries on six continents. He's the author of "A Fan's Guide To The World Baseball Classic," which is available for purchase exclusively at his Web sites: www.modernerabaseball.com and www.mrsportstravel.com.