Team Cuba is in town to defend its title at the 2006 XVI Intercontinental Cup Baseball Championship, which opens in Taichung today.
Eight squads from around the world are competing in the 10-day competition, with the winners to rule the amateur baseball world for the next four years.
The championship is the first international baseball tournament to be hosted by Taichung, where a brand new baseball stadium named after the competition has been built to seat more than 20,000 spectators per game over the next 10 days of play.
The eight teams -- Australia, Cuba, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, the Philippines, South Korea and Taiwan, will play a seven-game, round-robin preliminary round before they play through a double-elimination to determine the final winners in the medal round next weekend.
In preparation for the tournament, which was first held in 1973 in Rome, Italy, and where Team Japan claimed the first title, several of this year's teams have arrived in town early to play exhibition rounds against each other.
Team Taiwan managed to take two of the three games it played in the exhibition round, with a 4-2 win over Italy and a close 2-1 victory over Cuba. Taiwan suffered a 6-4 loss to a tough Australian squad.
While solid outings by the pitching staff put a faint smile on skipper Yeh Chih-shien's face over the three-game exhibition round, his hitters' inability to produce runs against probably the second-line pitchers of the opposing teams sparked some serious concern.
"We will definitely need to get our bats warmed up in a hurry if we want to stay competitive," Yeh said after the narrow win over the Cubans on Tuesday.
"That [extra batting practice] will be our focus for the next couple of days," Yeh added.
Standing in the way of Yeh's quest to win in front of the home crowd are South Korea, Japan, Cuba and Australia, four countries with rich baseball traditions and frequent top finishers in international competitions.
Making the job to win at home even tougher is the fact that the top players from the La New Bears, Chen Chin-fong, Lin Chih-sheng and lefty ace Wu Si-yo, will not be taking part in this year's tournament, as the Bears will represent Taiwan in this year's Asian Series in Tokyo, Japan. At the series, which opens this weekend, the top teams from Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and China will compete for the bragging right of being crowned Asia's best.