Baseball, á là Taiwan
Greetings, fellow baseball fans – and the rest of you, too!
I’m here in Tainan, a city of about a million on Taiwan’s west coast. I’ve just returned from a Chinese Professional Baseball League game between the Tainan Uni-President Lions and the Lamigo Monkeys.
Yes, my devotion to baseball surfaces at the oddest times. When I realized that Taiwan had professional baseball, I just knew I had to go. I badgered my cousins until they agreed – although, since they’re devoted Yankees fans, it wasn’t as hard as it sounds.
I checked online to review the league schedule and, of course, it was in Chinese. Thank heavens for our guide, Richard, who both reads and speaks Chinese. We were able to find a game that fit in with our travels, more or less, and made our way to Tainan in time for tonight’s contest.
Apparently, Tainan Municipal Baseball Stadium was built in the 1931 by the Japanese, who occupied the island for 50 years and the Japanese influence on the game here seemed apparent. Japanese businesses emphasize teamwork and the group over the individual, so I imagine they began the tradition of cheering in unison. Fans of the teams sat on opposite sides of the stadium and each group cheered as one throughout the game, led by a man with a microphone. Drums pounded the beat, horns blared the melody and fans clapped their noisemakers in time to the chants. It made for a lively atmosphere, and by the end of the game, I had even picked up some of the words.
Crazily, some of the chants used North American elementary school tunes, such as The Bear Went Over the Mountain and Old MacDonald! We felt right at home.
Speaking of feeling right at home, I had flashbacks of my many nights at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. The Orioles now have a pitcher named Wei-Yin Chen (in Chinese, it would be Chen Wei-Yin), who hails from none other than Tainan, Taiwan. Hero worship here is evident: there were numerous Orioles T-shirts and jerseys, and apparently, the TV stations in Taiwan show lots of Orioles games. Perhaps I should be working here instead of in Hong Kong!
In any case, we had a wonderful evening cheering for the home team, even though they eventually lost 12-6. We saw a grand slam, some great double plays and some good outfield catches. There was even a T-shirt toss and silly entertainment between innings, although there was no seventh inning stretch, alas!
We also met a U.S. ex-pat who reminded us of an aging biker, his head covered by an American flag scarf and his mouth missing a few teeth. As a regular Monkey’s fan, he filled us in on league gossip and baseball customs here in Taiwan, in between high-fiving us when his team scored. That’s part of the fun of travel: You meet all kinds!
At the end of the game, a lovely custom: the Lions lined up along the first base line and bowed to the fans. How nice to be appreciated in that way!
Tomorrow, it’s back to more traditional sightseeing, and Monday, it’s back to Hong Kong. But meanwhile, it’s wonderful to get a glimpse of another Asian culture.