Baseball, pride and national identity in Taiwan

Baseball, pride and national identity in Taiwan

Canadians have hockey. Brazilians, soccer. In Taiwan, the national sport is baseball, an important part of the national identity. As in Japan or Korea, the party that reigns in the stadiums has nothing to do with the atmosphere we know in North America.

View of a baseball game from right field.

TAINAN – Every evening is a moment of sporting fellowship. Thousands of fans dance and sing in chorus, following the choreography dictated by the cheerleaders of the local team.

A song and a dance are dedicated to each of the players during the game. Even if one may think the opposite at first sight, the spectators are attentive to the progress of the game and do not hesitate to interrupt songs to celebrate.

It's really a different way to watch the matches than at home, launches an amateur in the stands of Tainan. Seems like in America, people want to have a beer, chat and eat during the game instead.

Cheerleaders are an integral part of a baseball game.Supporters, standing, attentively follow the match.Cheerleaders enliven the crowd.1/3Cheerleaders are an integral part of a baseball game.Photo : Radio-Canada/Philippe LeblancSee the image previousView next image

In the festive stands, it's a magical moment for little Shu-Yun dressed in orange like the local team, the Unilions (the teams are named according to their main sponsor, editor's note). Her pigtails sway from left to right nonstop following the dances she already knows by heart.

She already shares the passion of her dad Eddie who tries to follow her in the stadium, she who runs everywhere to see the game, the mascot and the cheerleaders. Eddie came to study and live in Tainan in the 90s so he could follow his team closely.

I often talk about Unilions with my daughter at home. I tell him stories from the past, he says. She knows a lot about the team. Today is his first game in person. She's excited!

A supporter carefully follows the progress of the match.A batter about to run.A player initiates a throw towards home plate.1/3A female supporter carefully follows the progress of the game.Photo : Radio-Canada/Afore HsiehSee the previous imageSee the previous imageSee the game next image

CPBL (China Professional Baseball League) is in its 33rd season. It came into existence after the era of martial law which only ended in 1987 on the island. The league is recovering from major sports betting scandals in 1996 and 2008. The Taiwanese government even had to intervene to clean up the sport.

Players have been accused of accepting money and sexual advances with prostitutes in a match-fixing affair. Two of the then six teams closed up shop at this time.

Baseball was introduced to Taiwan by the Japanese who colonized the island after China ceded control to them in 1895. The sport is part of Taiwanese identity. The 500 new Taiwan dollar note also illustrates a historic moment in Taiwanese baseball, the first national victory against a Japanese team.

It is the national sport, the one in which we excel. It is a source of great pride, said a CTBC Brothers supporter who came to encourage his team in the stands of Tainan. Everyone follows baseball!

Taiwan won the first-ever Olympic silver medal in baseball in Barcelona in 1992. Parts of the World Baseball Classic (the equivalent of the World Cup) will also be played there next March. Internationally, the national team competes under the name China Taipei due to Chinese pressure.

The crowd watches the baseball game unfold.

The heat can be stifling in the summer in Taiwan. Many fans bring small battery-powered pedestal fans to enjoy the game. The carnival atmosphere reigns in the stadiums of Taiwan, as everywhere in Asia. It can be confusing for foreign players, like Unilions star pitcher, Ontarian Brock Dykxhoorn.

Brock Dykxhoorn has a baseball career in Taiwan.

The deafening noise bothered me in my first matches in Asia, it was in South Korea, he admits. Sometimes, when the crowd gets carried away, it can encourage me to change my pace, which should not be done. I really like the atmosphere. It feels like it's party time and an important Saturday night game every night of the week.

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Fans sang and danced for nearly four hours on this Saturday game night in early August. The game ended in a landslide victory for the Unilions 11 to 6. Seeing the smiles of the supporters of the CTBC Brothers, the team that lost that evening, it is easy to understand that there are no defeats . Only victories or lessons to be learned for the players. What a good time and a few hours to forget all the hassles of everyday life for fans.

Our correspondent in Asia Philippe Leblanc will be based in Taiwan for the next few months, to help us discover this island of nearly 24 million inhabitants, its society and the challenges that animate it. And also to cover current issues from the entire Asia-Pacific region.

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