Sat, Feb 28, 2004 - Page 20 News List

CPBL gears up for first pitch of baseball season

BATTER UP The Brother Elephants and the Sinon Bulls will play the first game of the new season today with President Chen Shui-bian throwing out the first pitch

By Paul Huang  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

When President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) tosses out the first pitch in tonight's season opener between the Brother Elephants and the Sinon Bulls in Kaohsiung, the 2004 Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) season will officially get underway.

In a replay matchup of last season's championship series, the Elephants will send American veteran Jonathan Hurst to the hill to take on the Bulls' up-and-coming second-year man, Yang Jien-fu (陽建福).

Both clubs are coming off an excellent spring training with high expectations for this season on their minds, and would gain a huge emotional lift with a victory against their arch rival tonight.

"We are going with him [Hurst] for his proven experience in big game situations," Elephants manager Lin Yi-tseng (林易增) told reporters on Thursday, "I hope he gets the auspicious first win for us."

The Elephants and the Bulls will meet again at 5pm tomorrow to conclude the first weekend of competition in the CPBL.

As for the outlook on the season, the league's official slogan for its 15th season -- "Endless Flight " -- which phonetically resembles the word "15" in Mandarin, could not be more appropriate in describing the resurgence of professional baseball's popularity in Taiwan.

Will the Elephants make history by winning their unprecedented fourth-straight league title? That was the question being asked throughout the entire spring training.

The defending champs have several good reasons to have high expectations for the upcoming season because it is essentially the same ball club that won the past three in a row, with more talent added for this season, including Panamanian pitcher Miguel Martinez, who missed the playoffs last year due to the three-foreigners-per-team limitation.

The addition of Martinez means that manager Lin Yi-tseng will have proven winners who can give him at least seven strong innings from the mound on any given night.

This will worry rival managers, considering that the Elephant offense led the league in team batting average (0.279) and total RBI's (509) last season.

Lurking right behind the Elephants with some unfulfilled postseason promises of their own are the Sinon Bulls with an infield (third baseman Chang Tai-shan (張泰山), shortstop Cheng Jau-hang (鄭兆行) and second baseman Huang Chung-yi (黃忠義) that gave Taiwan its first Olympic berth in 12 years at the 2003 Asian Championship in Sapporo, Japan.

Skipper Chen Wei-cheng (陳威成) lost a closer in Ramon Morel to the Hanshin Tigers of the Nippon Professional Baseball League during the off-season and will have to revert to newcomer Maximo Repolado of the Dominican Republic to preserve late-game leads for his team.

The health of Bulls' right-handed starter Tsai Chung-nan (蔡仲南) will play a major role in the overall success of the team as Tsai brings some much needed leadership to a rotation that is fairly young. The 2002 Rookie of the Year has not been 100 percent since mid-season last year when he suffered an elbow injury.

"Rulers of the South" was the nickname that the President Lions acquired from their hay-day in the mid-1990's, when they were the team to beat.

Other than a late-season breakdown (going 2-8 in their last 10 regular season contests) that cost them a ticket to the championship series, the Lions were unstoppable in the second half of last season, getting exceptional pitching from veterans John Frascatore and Jose Parra and Rookie of the Year winner Pan Wei-luen (潘威倫).

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