I’ve been to a lot of exciting baseball games in my life.
I’ve felt entire stadiums shake under my feet during home openers, playoff runs, postseason showdowns and even the World Series.
None of that compares to the energy I felt pulsating through the crowd during the Chinese Professional Baseball League’s (CPBL) 2013 opening day game in Taoyaun, Taiwan.
It’s a whole new ballgame
For nine innings straight, the crowd rhythmically chants alongside beating drums, blaring wind instruments, clapping cheerleaders, bellowing smoke machines, flags waving and flames shooting up from above the dugout.
Every pitch seems like an all-in moment and the excitement never wanes.
America may have invented baseball, but Taiwan has revolutionized the experience of attending a game.
Inside Taoyaun International Baseball Stadium
Opened in 2010, the Taoyaun International Baseball Stadium is home to the Taoyaun Lamigo Monkeys and seats 20,000 people.
However, as the there are only four teams in the league, all home games are packed with thousands of fans rooting for the visiting team as well.
To fuel this rivalry, the stadium is split in half and each team’s fans are encouraged to sit next to each other. That way, no matter what happens – ball, strike, out, hit, run – half of the stadium is cheering in unison.
Hyping Up the Crowd
If a Taiwanese baseball game were a symphony, the hype men would be the conductors.
Surrounded by cheerleaders and standing on top of their team’s dugout, these energetic men spend the entire game shouting into a microphone and encouraging the crowd to create a cacophony of rhythmic noise.
Always Something to Cheer For
As the excitement grows during any particular inning, so does the chorus of hands clapping, drums beating, horns blasting and thundersticks (see below) being struck together by thousands of amped up fans.
Meanwhile, any time there is a hit or key out, smoke and fire shoots into the air as stadium employees wave giant flags in the aisles.
The Seventh Inning Stretch Fight Song
I had a pretty good idea that I wouldn’t hear “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the middle of the seventh inning.
What I did hear was 100 times better; the entire Lamigo Monkeys crowd sang a fight song together while the 7-Eleven Lions side sang their own competing song. I highly suggest you watch the video below.
The Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL)
Established in 1989, the CPBL consists of four teams that each play 104 games per year. To keep things interesting, each season is divided into two separate 52 game halves. The winner of each half plays the other in the Taiwan Series.
Should the same team win both halves, the second and third place teams engage in a playoff series to determine who advances.
The Asia Series
Since 2005, the winner of the Taiwan Series has gone on to participate in the Asia Series against the league champions from China, Korea and Japan.
Taking place in a different country each year, the round-robin tournament’s first round features each team playing one-another once. The two clubs with the best record then face off in the finals.
Thus far, Japan has been the dominant force in the Asia Series; emerging victorious five times. Sadly, Taiwan has never taken home the trophy; a fact they hope to change when the games are played at home in 2013.
Baseball’s Opening Day: the Best Day of the Year
There’s something magical about opening day in baseball. Every score is 0-0 and no team is better than another. Miracles can happen and dynasties can quickly fade into history.
Random Fact: My love for baseball has led me to 20+ Major League Baseball opening day games, including a 14 year streak at Shea Stadium.
I Almost Missed the Game
It was opening day of the 2013 CPBL season. I had no ticket and no clue where the Taoyaun International Baseball Stadium was located.
The CPBL Web site said it was close to the Taoyaun train station, so I used Google Maps and found directions to what I assumed was the stadium. When I got there, I found myelf standing in front of a big, beautiful and empty municipal track and field arena. Oops.
Thank Heaven for 7-Eleven… and Millie!
Across the street was a 7-Eleven, so I went in and asked for help. In broken English, the cashier explained that the baseball stadium was 25 kilometers away. It turns out that Taoyaun is big enough to have two train stations.
“Are you going to the baseball game,” a woman’s voice queried from the checkout counter? “I’m going and can give you a ride if you want.”
What a stroke of luck! This was a way better option than taking an overpriced taxi and hoping for the best.
Not only did Millie give me a lift to the stadium, but she and her friends also helped me buy a scalped ticket, invited me to dinner and gave me a lift to the correct train station after the game. Yet another example of the amazing kindness of the Taiwanese people.
Buying a Scalped Ticket
Everyone said the baseball game was sold out, but with the help of Millie’s friend, Vivian, I was presented two options: buy a $6 outfield bleacher seat from the box office or a $17 scalped upper deck seat from a little old Taiwanese lady with a long mole hair.
After unsuccessfully trying to haggle, I still opted for the scalped seat. It’s a good thing I did, as the bleachers were separated from the rest of the stadium and if I had sat there I never would have gotten the photos on this page: or my foul ball!
What Food is there at a Taiwanese Baseball Game?
The most common food at a Taiwanese baseball game is whatever fans bring in with them. There are no bag checks or rules prohibiting outside eats or booze.
However, should hunger or thirst strike after you finish your imported consumables, there are plenty of options inside the stadium, including:
Meat and fish on stick
Sausages in a bag
Chicken tender bites
Pork or Chicken burritos (this is what I ate)
Corn on the cob
Popcorn (regular and caramel)
Soft Serv Ice Cream
Fresh fruit smoothies
Scenes From the Jumbotron
Like any other stadium, the jumbotron at Taoyaun International Baseball Stadium is used for everything from introducing the batter to exciting the crowd to advertising some product.
Here are a few examples.
Random Observations from a Taiwanese Baseball Game
Even at a Taiwan baseball game, I can’t avoid New York Yankees jerseys. Perhaps that’s because Chien-Ming Wang is the most well-known Taiwanese player in Major League Baseball.
Including Chien-Ming Wang, there only have been eight Taiwanese baseball players to reach the major leagues in America.
There are very few souvenir stalls in the stadium. My personal favorite was the one below, which seemed to sell nothing but Chen shirts.
There is a tall green fence surrounding the front rows of the upper deck and field level. It makes sense in the upper deck as a way to protect the fans… but all it does on field level is block the view of the best seats in the stadium.
Both baseball teams bowed to their respective fans at the end of the game.
In the back row of the stadium, there is an entire row of seats that face away from the field. I just don’t get it!
I Caught a Foul Ball!
So there I was, wandering around the lower deck of the stadium. A Lamigo Monkey had just hit a home run, fireworks had been set off, the crowd was going wild and I had snapped some great photos. “What could be better than this,” I thought as I soaked it all in.
One batter later, #55 sent a foul ball towering towards my general direction. It bounced off the upper deck and down into the stands behind me before taking one final hop into the walkway.
As dozens of outstretched hands reached for it, I swung my right arm towards the ball and closed my hand. “Oh my God! Wait, did that just happen? Did I get it?”
After staring at the ball in utter amazement for a few seconds, I looked up and realized the entire crowd was cheering for me with their hands up for high-fives. Walking down the aisle with an ear-to-ear grin on my face, I felt like a celebrity. Something tells me I was on the jumbotron, but I didn’t stop to look.
Excited to tell my friends, I wandered around until I found them seated in the front row behind the Monkeys’ dugout. As there were no open seats, I simply sat down on the stairs next to them and proceeded to spend the final two innings watching the game by their side.
This was especially amazing to me, as in America I couldn’t even get down to the field level without a ticket, let alone sit there for an hour.
. . .
In case they are reading this, I want to send one final HUGE thank you to Millie, Vivian and everyone else who made my opening day experience one that I will never forget.
Have you ever attended a sporting event outside of your home country?
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