Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lamigo Monkeys 4 at Brother Elephants 6 (CPBL Minors) - July 27, 2013


With my time in Asia nearing an end, I wanted to add one final country to the list of those in which I have seen a sporting event. Scouring the Internet for cheap flights, I found out that Scoot, a new low-cost carrier based in Singapore, was offering the return flight for free from Taipei. With the outbound leg a mere $200, this was a bargain. The only catch is that the flights are at terrible times - leaving Singapore at 1 am and returning from Taiwan at 2:30 am. The flight is just over 4 hours, so it makes a mess of your sleeping patterns. Well, beggars can't be choosers, and after convincing my wife that Taipei was an interesting place to visit, I booked those tickets leaving late Friday night and returning overnight Sunday.



I was sure there would be baseball over that weekend, but when I checked the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) schedule, (written in Chinese only), I saw no games on the calendar. Turns out that it was the All-Star weekend, with a home run derby on Saturday evening and the game itself Sunday, both played out in Taoyuan Stadium, near the airport. Fortunately, I was able to use my Japanese skills to dig a bit deeper into the site (much of the Japanese writing system is based on Chinese) and I determined that there was a single minor league game on Saturday afternoon, in a suburb of Taipei. Further research indicated that the stadium was easy to reach using the impressive Taipei Metro system and so I decided to forgo the All-Star Game and check out the minor league battle between the Lamigo Monkeys and Brother Elephants, two of the four teams that make up the CPBL (the other two are the Lions and Rhinos, who were briefly world-famous when Manny Ramirez suited up for them earlier this season).



The game was held at Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium, which is where the big Elephants play. The ballpark is located about 10 minutes from Xinzhuang station, a walk that will take you through a nice sports park. XBS was recently reviewed by my friends at Stadium Journey for a big-league game, and it is worth reading that piece if only to see how different the minor league experience is.



For the game I saw, there were no tickets – you just walk right in and sit right down. The upper deck and outfield seats are blocked off and there are no concessions. Midway through, I left the stadium to buy some food, something I should have done on the way. There are a number of convenience stores between the station and the ballpark and you should stop at one to get your supplies.



There were maybe 160 fans for this Saturday afternoon tilt, a surprisingly small number given the size of Taipei. I suppose the weather has something to do with it as the temperature was a humid 33 Celsius. Thankfully some of the seating is covered by the upper deck, as the heat can be terribly stultifying to one’s enthusiasm for the game.



I arrived during the middle of the first frame with the visiting Monkeys having been held scoreless. There is always a feeling of satisfaction when I manage to make it to a game that takes a good amount of planning. It’s not like rocking up to Yankee Stadium and buying a ticket, a trivially easy accomplishment these days. Getting to this game here required a few hours of research and it was time well-spent as I added my 20th country to the list of those in which I’ve attended a sporting event (and my 102nd league overall, and venue number 422 - yeah, I like counting things). As I took a seat, I smiled to myself, feeling like I was in heaven for a few minutes as the Elephants took their turn at bat, wearing their traditional yellow uniforms that reminded me of the Pittsburgh Pirates back in the 1970s.



There is no need to recap the game in detail, since I didn’t really pay attention. Without a program and a translator, I had no idea who was who and couldn’t have kept score. After three quick, scoreless innings, the Monkeys plated a run in the top of the 4th on a balk. I’ll never understand the reason why pitchers throw to first with a man on third – the most likely result is a run scoring, not an out. Anyway, the Elephants got 2 in their half to take the lead and another 3 in the fifth to make it 5-1. When they added a singleton in the 7th, it looked like a blowout, but the Monkeys made it close with a threespot in the 8th. In the ninth, they got the tying run to the plate but a groundout ended things and the Elephants prevailed 6-4 in a game that took 3:17. Here’s a link for those who can read Chinese.



Ultimately, I found this to be similar to a Japanese baseball game: quick start but then gets bogged down with poor pitching and the 5-minute break to clean the field after the fifth inning. Still, there were some good plays on defense and a fundamental approach to the game, although the runner below was easily thrown out at second. If I ever make it back to Taiwan (a great destination for those looking for a place off the beaten path), I will definitely catch a big league game or two to see if the comparison holds up.



Notes

I believe I saw something for the first time in a baseball game – a batter batting out of order, the umpire being notified, and the correct batter taking his place with the count unchanged. Normally, the manager lets the improper batter complete his turn, because there is no negative outcome and the skipped batter will be called out. Instead, by calling attention to the infraction, the proper batter took his place with a 1-0 count and promptly walked. That is the correct ruling as I quote from Wikipedia:

If the infraction is discovered during a plate appearance (that is, a pitch has been thrown to the current batter), then the umpire considers the current batter and the previous one. If the current batter's name does not follow the previous actual batter's name in the written order, the current batter is improper. There is no penalty, but the situation is rectified--the proper batter comes to bat and assumes the improper batter's current count.



There is a special place for strange fans on the second floor of the stadium as you can see in the photo above.

Next Up

I’m heading back to Japan for a 4-day weekend during which I will see three baseball games in the Kansai region. This will allow me to complete the ballpark reviews for Stadium Journey, a task I have postponed for two years now.

After that, I will visit the Maldives for a week of much-needed relaxation as I prepare for the mother of all sports road trips, the NFL Stadium Journey, which begins September 4th. I will be tweeting at @NFLStadJourney as well as maintaining a Facebook page, so please follow along.

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. I am moving to New York City as well. I arrive on August 28th and will immediately spend a day at the U.S. Open, then see a Yankees game, as well as a MLS game between the Red Bulls and D.C. United. After a relatively quiet year in Singapore, Sports Road Trips is back with a vengeance. Check back often as I go crazy with my new freedom!

Best,

Sean

Thursday, July 18, 2013

NFL Road Trip 2013 - It's On!


There are 50 days until the start of the NFL season and for me that means time to decide whether to visit all 32 stadiums in just 17 weeks for the 2013 NFL Road Trip. After much consideration, I've decided to go! The schedule is the most suitable, starting in Denver and ending in Seattle, avoiding the cold winter for the most part and spending Thanksgiving onwards in the south and west. My job is ending in August and so I have the time. And I am moving to the USA, which is conveniently where the NFL is located. So why not?

The schedule is below:

Week 1
Thu Sep 5    Baltimore at Denver 6:30 - Season Opener
Sun Sep 8    Oakland at Indianapolis 1:00
Mon Sep 9    Philadelphia at Washington 7:10 - Monday Opener

Week 2
Thu Sep 12   NY Jets at New England 8:25
Sun Sep 15   Cleveland at Baltimore 1:00

Week 3
Thu Sep 19   Kansas City at Philadelphia 8:25
Sun Sep 22   Chicago at Pittsburgh 8:30

Week 4
Thu Sep 26   San Francisco at St. Louis 7:25
Sun Sep 29   Chicago at Detroit 1:00

Week 5
Thu Oct 3    Buffalo at Cleveland 8:25
Sun Oct 6    New England at Cincinnati 1:00

Week 6
Sun Oct 13   Cincinnati at Buffalo 1:00

Week 7
Sun Oct 20   New England at NY Jets 1:00
Mon Oct 21   Minnesota at NY Giants 8:40

Week 8
Thu Oct 24   Carolina at Tampa Bay 8:25
Sun Oct 27   Buffalo at New Orleans 1:00

Week 9 
Thu Oct 31   Cincinnati at Miami 8:25
Mon Nov 4    Chicago at Green Bay 7:40

Week 10
Thu Nov 7    Washington at Minnesota 8:25
Sun Nov 10   Detroit at Chicago 1:00

Week 11
Thu Nov 14   Indianapolis at Tennessee 7:25
Sun Nov 17   Arizona at Jacksonville 1:00
Mon Nov 18   New England at Carolina 8:40

Week 12
Thu Nov 21   New Orleans at Atlanta 8:25
Sun Nov 24   San Diego at Kansas City 12:00

Week 13
Thu Nov 28   Oakland at Dallas 3:30 - Thanksgiving
Sun Dec 1    New England at Houston 3:25

Week 14
Sun Dec 8    St. Louis at Arizona 1:25

Week 15
Sun Dec 15   Kansas City at Oakland 1:05

Week 16
Sun Dec 22   Oakland at San Diego 1:25
Mon Dec 23   Atlanta at San Francisco 5:40

Week 17
Sun Dec 29   St. Louis at Seattle 1:25


The four rounds of playoffs are also an option, once we know the schedule. As I'll be living in New York, I hope to get to the Super Bowl as well.

My friends at Stadium Journey are going to help out with some logistics and I will post updates on the trip on a daily basis there.  My blog updates therefore will be very limited as I won't have the time to do everything so please follow along at Stadium Journey.

I plan to write a pre-season guide over the next few days as well as a book detailing the journey. More on those in a later post.

You can also follow the trip in real time on Twitter (@NFLStadJourney) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/NFLStadiumJourney). It's going to be four months of football and fun, so hope you can be a part of it.

Best,

Sean

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Moving to New York!


Big news! After 17 years in Asia, I am moving to New York. My wife (yes, I got married recently) is going there to study, so I will join her. I arrive in New York on my birthday (August 28th for those who wish to send greetings) and will see the U.S. Open, a Yankees game, and a New York Red Bull match over the first weekend. It will be so good to be back in a city that has so many sporting options. Even then, I probably won't go to local games very often, preferring to spend my money and time on seeing venues that are part of the Quest for 400.

Over the next year or two, I expect to complete the 122 Big 4 stadiums, especially if I can do the full-season NFL trip shortly after I arrive. With only 2 NHL arenas and 6 NBA stadiums left to go, it will be no problem to finish these off by the end of next season. I also hope to complete the baseball minor leagues by the summer of 2015, leaving just the CFL, the AHL and a few other minor hockey leagues, and odds and ends in the lower echelons of American sport.

It is an exciting time for me and this blog will start to be more relevant again that I am able to actually do real sports road trips.

In the meantime, I will be visiting Taipei at the end of July to see a baseball game and then Osaka a week later to finish my reviews of the NPB ballparks for Stadium Journey. That will complete my sports viewing in Asia, so check back for reports on those games. Until then, the blog will remain quiet as we finalize our arrangements, our second international move in a year. It's an exciting time and I can't wait to get started.

Best,

Sean