Now that the baseball fever that gripped the nation has subsided — at least temporarily until the next time the sport becomes an overnight fad — and the national baseball team has returned after its elimination from the quadrennial World Baseball Classic (WBC), it is a good time to re-examine the status of this popular pastime.
For two weeks, the game that has been described as Taiwan’s national sport was almost the only thing that mattered to the 23 million Taiwanese. The premier’s report to the legislature, the never-ending strife between political parties and even the anti-nuclear movement had to take a backseat to how Team Taiwan was doing in Taichung and Tokyo during the first and second round of the WBC.
Team Taiwan’s fighting spirit, in particular the way the players fought against and stayed shoulder-to-shoulder with more powerful rivals South Korea and Japan touched millions of fans and explains why the WBC coverage dominated local media during a short period in which it seemed that Taiwanese could not get enough of baseball.
There was also a huge amount of betting on the games, a familiar sight for some baseball fans. Unfortunately, betting was why there are those who are concerned that the frenzy would be just another fad that evaporates overnight.
The nation experienced the same passion a few years ago, when Taiwan rode on the shoulders of power hitter Chen Chin-feng (陳金鋒) and talented pitcher Chang Chih-chia (張誌家) to a bronze-medal finish in the Baseball World Cup in Tianmu (天母), Taipei, which ignited a resurgence in Taiwan’s professional baseball after the league’s popularity plummeted due to game-rigging scandals.
The baseball renaissance was short-lived, as more scandals broke out in the following years and more fans abandoned the league altogether.
Average attendance at a Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) game was somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 and the average TV rating of a CPBL game was about 5 percent of that of the Taiwan-Japan game in the second round of the WBC.
Perhaps few people remember that only a few months ago the CPBL was talking about the possibility of going out of business if one of its four remaining teams failed to find a buyer.
While neither the players who remained in the league nor the fans should be held responsible for the bleak situation, it is difficult to know what to expect after the national team’s memorable run in Tokyo. After all, Taiwanese, sports fans in particular, have been known for riding on bandwagons. After a while, the passion fades and most people are likely to forget about baseball.
That is why the government should step in. Laying a foundation and offering consistent support for a sport that has made numerous people proud to be Taiwanese would be more important than awarding players with prize money and posting messages on the Presidential Office’s Facebook page saying: “Taiwan, go go go!”
What the government should do is refrain from making foolish pledges like it did months ago that “the CPBL will not fold,” and refrain from reducing the already miserable budget for the promotion of sports.
Sports fans know that the difference between the Taiwanese and Japanese baseball teams is not merely the runs on the WBC scoreboard, but the years of hard work promoting the sport.
Only by vigorously promoting the sport can baseball become the true national sport and a source of pride regardless of how well Team Taiwan and Taiwan’s professional league are doing.