Sat, Mar 03, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Trailblazers hit home run for women

ROLE MODELS:The Taiwan Women’s Baseball Advocate Association hopes the three, who have been signed to play in Japan, will inspire more women to take up the sport

Staff writer, with CNA

Chen Chen-i of Taichung Sunflower pitches during a game in an undated photograph.

Photo courtesy of Taiwan Women’s Baseball Advocate Association

Baseball might be Taiwan’s national pastime, but as in most nations where the game is played, it has remained almost exclusively a game for men.

Taiwan’s first women’s baseball team was not founded until 2001, almost a century after the creation of its first men’s team during Japanese colonial rule in 1903.

Today, 17 years later, three pioneers are hoping to make baseball an even more viable option for female athletes in Taiwan after being signed to play in the world’s only professional baseball league for women — the Japan Women’s Baseball League (JWBL).

They are pitcher/infielder Hsieh Yu-ying (謝鈺瀅) and outfielder Shen Chia-wen (沈嘉文), who are to play for the Kyoto Flora, and pitcher/outfielder Tseng Chi (曾琪), who joined the Aichi Dione.

“It might be somewhat of an exaggeration, but I think they are like [Taiwanese baseball star] Chen Chin-feng (陳金鋒),” baseball commentator Tseng Wen-chen (曾文誠) said.

Much like Chen, who became the first Taiwanese to play in the US major leagues with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002 and opened the doors for others like him, these women in their early 20s are “trailblazers,” creating a new path that others can follow, Tseng said.

Having these role models to look up to is a morale boost to everybody who walks the lonely road of women’s baseball in Taiwan, said Shawan Liao (廖立欣), secretary-general of the Taiwan Women’s Baseball Advocate Association (TWBAA).

“Even more importantly, it shows that you can actually make a living if you play well enough,” she added.

Growing up a baseball lover like many Taiwanese, Liao said she has always loved playing the sport, but found fewer women playing the game with her the older she grew.

“There is a deeply rooted misconception in Taiwan that baseball is for men and softball is for women,” Liao said.

What makes things worse is that Taiwan’s women’s softball team is very competitive internationally, she said, adding that as a result, most women who love baseball in their youth grow up to play softball instead, and they can now earn a living doing it after the formation of a semi-professional softball league in May 2016.

However, that does not mean they have forgotten their love of baseball, said Liao, who makes a living working in a breakfast restaurant.

Taiwan’s first amateur women’s baseball team, named Kapok after the silk-cotton tree, was formed in Kaohsiung in August 2001, followed by the Taipei Vanguard later the same month and the Taichung Sunflower in January 2002.

Many of the players were former softball players who still had a passion for baseball, while others, like Liao, had little training, but wanted to play for the love of the game.

They played for fun at riverside parks on weekends and sought out games with other teams from around the globe over the Internet.

The result was the first-ever series of games between teams from Taiwan and Hong Kong in August 2002 — an important milestone for female Taiwanese baseball players, Liao said.

Although it might be surprising that the former British colony would have women’s baseball teams, Liao said the relative obscurity of the sport in Hong Kong has actually made it easier to promote baseball for women there.

“No one has any idea what baseball is in Hong Kong, so no one in Hong Kong has any bias against women playing baseball, unlike in Taiwan,” she said.

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