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Batter Up! How Taiwan’s Baseball Season Opened This Year

2020-5-4

Taiwan’s baseball season opened on April 11, at a time when many governments had ordered businesses to close because of the coronavirus.

But in Taiwan, the baseball season opened just three weeks later than usual. Teams have been playing in empty sports stadiums, with people watching the games on television and the internet.

The professional baseball league has five teams. Each team expects to play all 240 normal season games before December.

The situation is notably different in countries with many cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. For now, baseball has been halted in Japan and South Korea. North America’s Major League Baseball season has been delayed with no date set for opening day.

Cheerleaders encourage on the Stadium stands with no audience at Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium in New Taipei City, Taiwan, Friday, April 24, 2020. Taiwan's five-team Chinese Professional Baseball League is barring spectators over concerns they would spread t
Cheerleaders encourage on the Stadium stands with no audience at Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium in New Taipei City, Taiwan, Friday, April 24, 2020. Taiwan's five-team Chinese Professional Baseball League is barring spectators over concerns they would spread t

In addition, the National Basketball Association season ended without a champion, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been postponed until 2021.

The story of how Taiwanese baseball was able to keep going is worth studying.

As China battled the new coronavirus in February and March, Taiwan’s baseball league set up a group to study whether the virus would reach the island. League officials were also trying to plan for two other events, including the 2020 Summer Olympics.

“We figured conditions were extremely serious,” said Wu Chih-yang, the league’s commissioner.

At the same time, the Taiwan government’s Central Epidemic Command Center was considering ways to hold large public events, like baseball games.

League officials considered the government’s suggestions. For a time, it was unclear when the season would start in March. However, they soon decided that teams would play in empty stadiums. They thought the games would have enough atmosphere that people watching on television would feel like it was the real thing.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Taiwan has been light -- fewer than 500 on an island with 23 million people. That is one of the world’s lowest infection rates.

The baseball league decided that the rate was low enough to protect gatherings of players and other workers. But Wu noted that crowds, which averaged 6,000 for each game in other seasons, could still spread the disease. For that reason, individual fans could not attend.

Wu said that cheerleaders perform at the games now because they are known to the teams, and not strangers. During the games, loud music is played and there are cardboard cutouts of people in the seats. One team even has six robots that play drums.

Want-Wei-chen is a player with the Chinatrust Brothers team. He said, “I think we’d all like more fans to come in and cheer us on, but there’s truly no way for that, due to the outbreak.”

On April 15, as many as 650,000 people watched one game online. Those numbers get companies to advertise in stadiums and increase their sales of team-related products.

“If they were losing money, no one would do this,” the commissioner said.

Wu believes Taiwan’s professional baseball league is the only major one that’s playing in the world right now.

But he noted, “We want players all over the world to stay healthy and then get through the disease outbreak and be able to start their seasons smoothly, because actually to be the only one is quite lonely.”

The league decided last month to add English language commentary at each sports center, Wu added. That will help people in the United States and other countries without baseball to follow the games in Taiwan.

I’m Mario Ritter Jr.

Ralph Jennings reported this story for VOANEWS. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

professional adj. related to a job or employment

league – n. a collection of teams that play each other over a period for a championship

commissioner – n. a person appointed to serve as the top official of a sports league

due to phrase because of; caused by

outbreak – n. the sudden or violent start of something unwelcome, such as disease