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.
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.
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!