Baseball-The Asian Way

Baseball-The Asian Way

By: Billy Sylvester

After a ten-year career in professional baseball in which I traveled throughout the United States and four years of winter ball either in Mexico or Puerto Rico, I thought I’d seen it all.

When I got my latest assignment to play ball in Taiwan, I was excited, I’d never been there before. Sure the language is different and their culture is too. Maybe it is halfway around the world but I’m prepared for it because I assumed baseball would be the same game I’ve always played. I assumed wrong.

I arrived in Fong Yuan, Taiwan on July 23. Everyday since has become a huge learning experience for me. Not just the culture but also the game itself. Everyday I see something new. Everyday I witness something I never thought I’d see!

My first orientation to my new job came right away. We only play a third of our “home” games at home. Our home park is 40 minutes from the dormitories that they supply for us. Our living facilities have batting cages, video rooms, a pool, weight room and the works, good thing because the park is not around the corner. Most of our “home” games are played throughout the country, other teams do the same. The idea behind it is to take the game to the fans, to make it easier for them to see professional baseball.

We take batting practice for two hours everyday. It makes no difference whether it’s a noon start after a late game or not, we are out there all day it seems. Back home you hardly ever take BP on Sunday’s or on day games that follow a night game.

When you finish batting practice and return to the clubhouse you hit a wall of smoke. Everyone thinks people in Asia are health nuts, the reality is most of them are addicted to ciagarettes. Yes, even the players and they do it before the games too.

Once game time rolls around, distinct differences are evident right off the bat. As the umpires make their way to home plate, they bow to the field and then to the crowd. We all bow actually, a lot. Before the game and after the game, both teams line the base paths and bow to field and crowd too.

Local bands--like marching bands--are loud and energetic! If you’ve ever seen a game played overseas, noise throughout the entirety of the game is commonplace. I always think it would be interesting to see a golfer or tennis player have to perform in this environment.

The umpires actually must bow three times…the third is during the intermission. Yes, I said intermission…at a baseball game! When the fifth inning ends, the field is cleared and the grounds crew drags the infield, replaces the bases, rakes the mound and plate. They restore the surface to the way it looked before the game. The intermission lasts 30 minutes. During this time, the players return to the locker rooms, smoke some more and change their uniforms. I am a starting pitcher over here. A 30-minute lay-off is not easy to adjust to, if you’ve ever pitched, you know why. I rest for about 20 minutes then warm-up again!

When the ballgame is over, an MVP of the game is awarded on a platform during a ceremony at home plate. As I mentioned, both teams are already on the foul line and when they call your name you make your way to the podium. I won it once and was presented a glass trophy for my outing that night. At that point you address the crowd over the loud speaker. In my case, I needed an interpreter to translate for the people in the stands. The other good thing about winning that award was that it triggers an incentive clause that most players have in their contracts!

We do have base salaries but much of the money we make is performance-driven. Every player’s dollar amount varies but it’s amazing what they will pay you for. You can make money, good money, for every strikeout, for a 1-2-3 inning, a complete game, shutout, win and save. You can make money for every appearance and, get this, even for getting up in the bullpen…even if you don’t get into the game. You can have meal money for a week if they have you loosen in the pen three times!

On the flip side, you can lose money too. Walks, losses, 0-2 hits, allowing a run, etc can cost you. Performance is strongly emphasized here. There’s no doubt the system keeps player’s driven.