Sat, Mar 01, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Cities must team up to catch baseball dreams

By Mark Lin 林士清

Cities in southern Taiwan are competing to be the site of a new international baseball village, hoping to reinvigorate the sport in the country and lay the foundations for strengthening domestic teams.

The Greater Tainan Government planned to construct an international baseball village in Heshunliao (和順寮), Annan District (安南), but after the bidding process for the contract failed on three separate occasions due to lack of a response, the city decided to skip the planning and estimates stages and jump straight into construction. Meanwhile, it sent a planning committee to the US to observe spring training centers and baseball stadium facilities.

The Greater Kaohsiung Department of Sports, having revisited plans to build a baseball village in Gangshan District (岡山), has decided that the outline needs to be reviewed to ensure that newly constructed facilities there do not become just another vacant mosquito breeding ground.

Meanwhile, in Chiayi City, local baseball aficionados wanted to see the city government build a “Taiwanese Williamsport” — after Williamsport, the birthplace of Little League Baseball in Pennsylvania — near the Lantan Reservoir (蘭潭水庫). Nothing has come of this either.

Good intentions are great, but it is also important to get the policy right. There are three main problems with the idea of having an international baseball village.

First, there is some doubt as to whether the authorities have what it takes to implement the policy. The financial resources available to local governments are insufficient for the range of facilities and support that an international baseball village would require and the national Sports Administration’s concerns that the initiative would end up with just more disused buildings, or as an excuse to line the pockets of corrupt officials, might have it all descend into a game of passing the buck.

Second, the policy would require extenisve planning and several kinds of expertise — regarding coaching philosophies and the development of umpires, talent scouts and qualified sports injury prevention and first-aid professionals — that are not available here.

The development of baseball faces many challenges and, although it is painful to say, the prospect of international success in tournaments in the near future remains remote.

Third, there is the issue of how such a sports village would fit in the local area, in terms of the environment, topography, transportation and industry, and what it would mean for other government policies. Perhaps, most important would be the degree to which the international baseball culture would be embraced locally.

Those caveats aside, the creation of an international baseball community need not be a zero-sum game or a competition between separate and isolated entities.

Chiayi could plan for its “Williamsport” to develop little league baseball; Greater Tainan could consider hooking up with baseball teams and building a set of baseball stadiums — modeled on the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York — in which foreign coaches and players from teams overseas could teach; and an international baseball village in Greater Kaohsiung could concentrate on providing facilities for different levels, like the Hanshin Koshien baseball park near Kobe, Japan.

If involved parties can further differentiate the lines and space between main and secondary stadiums, and upgrade their administration, stands, training, boarding and teaching facilities, this would be great for the development of tourism, catering and industry in the northern part of Kaohsiung.

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