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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Blown calls

My daughter poses outside of Chungshan Hall (Zhōng​shān táng) 中山堂 in T'aichung (Tái​zhōng) 台中on Tuesday night. We had just seen the Moscow City Ballet perform Swan Lake. The dancing was incredible, and though the ballerinas received the greatest applause, I was most impressed with the man playing the role of Prince Siegfried. His combination of grace and strength was the envy of this clumsy clod.

One thing you can be sure of about Taiwan is that when it comes to its relationships with the outside world, this society often manages to squander the few opportunities that come its way (and I should know - missed chances have always been the dominant storyline of my life). In this case, I'm referring to the upcoming visit to this island by a team of Major League Baseball players who will play a series of exhibition games next week against the Chinese T'aipei 中華台北 national team http://www.chinapost.com.tw/taiwan/national/national-news/2011/10/27/321123/Wang-joins.htm. One of the stops on the tour will be next Thursday at the T'aichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium 臺中市洲際棒球場. Tickets are pricey - the one my wife bought for me at 7-Eleven this evening cost NT2800 ($93/¥7060), but I'll treat it as an early Xmas present. I remember seeing Sammy Sosa and company play as part of an MLB All-Star team vs. a squad of Japanese stars many moons ago (well, 1998 to be exact) at the Tōkyō Dome 東京ドーム (Sosa hit a long home run as the major leaguers came from behind to win 9-8), and I'm hoping this upcoming contest will also be a fun one to watch.

So what's the problem? Among the players from the American and National Leagues who will be taking part in the 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series are none other than Chien-Ming Wang 王建民 of the Washington Nationals, and his fellow countryman on the Detroit Tigers, Fu-Te Ni 倪福德. The catch is that Wang and Ni, despite honing their professions in the baseball world's equivalent of the Premier League, will not be playing with their peers from North America. Instead, Wang and Ni will be throwing the ball for Taiwan...I mean Chinese T'aipei. And what's wrong with that, you might ask? Where do I begin...

Let's start by making a comparison with what happened on recent MLB all-star tours of Japan. During the past decade, both Ichirō Suzuki 鈴木一朗 of the Seattle Mariners and Hideki Matsui 松井秀喜 (then of the New York Yankees) played in Japan, in front of their countrymen, as members of the MLB squad, and not on the team made of up of stars from Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) プロ野球. The tours were promoted as contests pitting a team of MLB players against a squad made up of local heroes, and very few Japanese seemed to mind that Ichirō and Godzilla were playing with Americans (of both the North and Latin persuasions) and not against them. In fact, most fans looked forward to seeing the local boys who had made good overseas sharing the field as equals...teammates...with some of the best baseball players in the world. The fact that they were on the winning sides (the MLB teams won most of the games against the Japanese all-stars) seemed to please the Japanese specatators all the more.

Cue Taiwan. Wang, and to a lesser extent Ni, have shown that they belong on a Major League playing field. Wang, especially, had a couple of stellar seasons with the (hated) Yankees, and this year he made a successful return from the disabled list with the Nats. Ni has struggled in recent years, spending the past couple of season with the Triple A Toledo Mud Hens, but he still has the potential to return to the big leagues. These two players (a third Taiwanese from MLB, Hong-Chih Kuo 郭泓志, seems to have given up on the game) deserve to be on the same team as their peers from the AL and NL, and not reduced to serving as ringers for the local side, which unfortunately seems to be the case here. It's as if the San Francisco Giants were to play the University of Washington in an exhibition game, with Giants standout pitcher (and Cy Young Award winner) Tim Lincecum suiting up for the Huskies, his alma mater.

I'm left to wonder if Taiwanese fans are not ready to allow Wang to have his moment, basking in the adulation of the hometown (home country?) crowd in the presence of his fellow teammates from the majors. No, Wang and Ni have to switch sides, and carry the banner for the natives against the foreign horde. For in all likelihood, this series won't be viewed here as a contest between a group of baseball players who ply their trade in the American and National Leagues (made up of 30 teams based in the USA and Canada), vs. a team of players representing the local Chinese Professional Baseball League 中華職業棒球大聯盟 (with perhaps a couple of players who are based in Japan). Rather, I have the feeling Taiwanese fans will think of these exhibition contests as battles between Americans and Taiwanese, despite the fact that in any given baseball season, between 25-30% of players on Major League rosters were born outside of the United States, with Taiwan included on that list (and a quick perusal of the lineup for the MLB team coming to Taiwan reveals several players from the Dominican Republic, along with a couple of Venezuelans). And you can't have the Pride of Taiwan siding with the barbarians now, can you?

沒關係. Parochialism may rule, and chances to broaden the international outlook of the local populace are in danger of being squandered, but I'm still looking forward to next week's game. Play ball!

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