Two Taiwanese ballparks yesterday became the world’s first to be opened to spectators for professional baseball this year, underscoring the nation’s success in containing the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CPBL games had the visiting Uni-President Lions facing the Fubon Guardians at the Sinjhuang Stadium in New Taipei City, while the CTBC Brothers hosted the Rakuten Monkeys at the Intercontinental Stadium in Taichung.
The Guardians hanged on for a 7-6 win after the Lions scored four runs in the top of the eighth.
Fubon’s Chiang Chih-hsien hit a solo dinger in the fifth against American pitcher Ryan Feierabend and the Lions’ Chen Yung-chi blasted a three-run homer in the eighth against Fubon’s relief pitching.
In the night’s other contest, the Brothers downed the Monkeys 6-4.
Health authorities on Wednesday said that ballparks could be opened to spectators as long as social distancing rules were enforced, as restrictions are being eased across society. That ended nearly a month of shuttered gates.
The CPBL season began on April 12, also a world first for pro baseball this year.
Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) and New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜) attended the game in Sinjhuang to ensure proper prevention measures were observed.
The ballclubs invited Chen as a special guest to address the players and fans.
As he walked to the infield, spectators gave him a standing ovation, with many calling: “Thank you, health minister.”
“Taiwan’s prevention measures to combat the pandemic situation had all of our citizens cooperating with diligent efforts to achieve our common goals,” Chen told the crowd. “Today we did not have any new cases ... and that means 26 straight days with zero local cases in Taiwan. This is due to the combined efforts of all of our citizens.”
“Because of these results, we can take the next step to opening up,” he said. “To do this, we have to implement a new lifestyle, which includes personal hygiene practices like washing hands, wearing masks, social distancing and temperature taking. These must be done well at all times.”
“Today we start with opening ballparks, but with limits and in phases,” he said. “Step by step, let us see if we can continue to contain the virus.”
“To maintain a good life, let us do this together,” Chen said. “We can have success in containing the outbreak, so let us cheer each other on.”
Fubon Guardians general manager Chris Tsai presented a bouquet to the minister, thanking him on behalf of sports fans for opening ballparks.
Fubon head coach Hong Yi-chung presented Chen with a placard, smaller versions of which were presented to each spectator and media personnel, to commemorate the occasion.
They read: “Congratulations on being the first fans to attend a baseball game this year.”
The CPBL, in consultation with health authorities, introduced disease prevention conditions for spectators, including advanced ticket purchases online with ID verification, a limit of 1,000 people in designated seats that are staggered for social distancing, mandatory masks, and no eating, although drinking water is allowed.
Cheering and flag waving are permitted.
People began lining up outside the Sinjhuang Stadium in the late afternoon, and temperatures were taken before entry. Seats and tables were set up where each person filled out a health declaration and their recent travel history. Staff checked tickets and IDs, and disinfectant was sprayed on spectators’ hands before they could enter the stadium.
Some spectators complained about the no-eating rule, saying that three hours is too long to go without food.
These games are a test and restrictions would be eased eventually, Chen said.
The eating ban is to prevent virus transmission through saliva, he added.
One fan surnamed Kuo told reporters that he would surely get hungry and would leave the stadium to buy food before returning to the game.
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