Taiwanese professional baseball has become anemic as the size of the crowds at games is constantly shrinking. Teams are experiencing economic problems, as seen late last year when the Sinon Bulls were sold to E United Group and had their name changed to the E-Da Rhinos. Even the company behind the Brother Elephants, the nation’s most popular baseball team, is considering pulling out of the sport.
It seems as if baseball is in danger of losing its spot as the nation’s most popular sport, but just as one can never tell how a game will develop, it is impossible to say what the future of Taiwanese baseball will look like.
However, the World Baseball Classic group qualifiers in Greater Taichung have shown over the past few days that the enthusiasm of Taiwanese baseball fans is undiminished.
The arena was filled to breaking point as more than 20,000 fans cheered on Taiwan with passionate fervor as they played against Australia and then the Netherlands, with even more fans glued to their television sets.
Baseball clearly remains the most popular sport in Taiwan, and still has a passionate and committed fan base.
When Taiwan beat Australia 4-1, the team not only a took a step toward becoming one of the final eight, it also showed the resilience of Taiwanese baseball and paved the way for potential new career opportunities for Taiwanese baseball stars.
Teams are using their best players in this competition, proritizing the tournament above the Olympics, which is why fans have so much to look forward to, even though these are only the group qualifiers.
Thanks to former Major League Baseball (MLB) players Wang Chien-ming (王建民) and Kuo Hong-chih (郭泓志); younger players who have returned from US Little League Baseball to play professional baseball in Taiwan; and domestic stars such as Peng Cheng-min (彭政閔), Lin Chih-sheng (林智勝) and Pan Wei-lun (潘威倫); the nation has a great team supported by a big fan base.
This tournament is particularly important for Wang and Kuo because Taiwanese audiences have not seen them pitch for a long time due to their US engagements. The pair have not let fans down.
Wang tossed six innings of shutout ball with three double putouts, allowing only four hits and no runs. He did not throw above 150km an hour, but had superb ball control, making it impossible for the batter to get a hit.
Kuo displayed his speed, showing perseverance in the face of injury and their outstanding performances showed MLB scouts that they have the talent and skill required to return to major league baseball.
Against both Australia and the Netherlands, Taiwan’s attack and defense play was remarkable, in particular against the Netherlands, when they came back to claim an 8-3 win after being 0-3 down. The performance was evidence of the talent of the nation’s professional baseball players and has made the sport interesting again.
The only negative is the minority of players who, lacking self-respect, got involved in game-rigging through organized crime creating an enduring legacy that has discouraged fans and diminished the game’s popularity.
Despite this, judging from the World Baseball Classic, players continue to perform well and fans remain enthusiastic.
Taiwanese baseball has a future, as long as the players stay ethical and keep away from organized crime and other temptations. If they work hard to win back public support through their sportsmanship, the sport has a promising future ahead of it.