Baseball-The Asian Way II

Part II

We only play four games a week but it's amazing how much they want you to throw. For instance, I started a game and went seven innings on a Tuesday. Friday I worked two frames and another inning on Saturday. After a day off, they wanted me to pitch again on Monday and I was making my next start on Wednesday! My arm recovers well and I've never had arm trouble but I had to decline on the last relief appearance. Of course that cost me a little cash but I'd never been asked to handle that kind of a workload.

I thought this was real weird the first time I saw it, actually I still do. Try to picture this. There was a runner at second base and the pitcher, in the stretch, leans in to get the sign. Before the catcher goes through his series of signals, the pitcher takes his right hand and gives the catcher a sign on his lead arm, out of sight from the base runner. He gives his battery mate one, two, three, four or five fingers to tell him which sign, during the series, will be the pitch they will throw. For instance, it the pitcher shows the catcher two fingers, then the catcher's second sign will be the pitch they must agree on. Of course the hitter can see this. What I cannot figure out is why the hitter wouldn't make a couple of practice swings to alert the runner at second base that the second sign is on, then the runner could relay the pitch back to the hitter. After seeing this a few times I asked why the batter and runner didn't work in sync to know what pitch was coming. I continue to be told that crazy notion would be “dishonorable.”

Many rules here are very different. If you hit a batter in the head you are ejected, no questions asked. It makes no difference whether it's a breaking ball or change-up, bases loaded-it doesn't matter, you're gone.

Some other things you mind find interesting may be that we only get four warm-up pitches before an inning begins instead of the customary eight. Pitching coaches can visit a pitcher three times in an inning if he wants. On the fourth visit in a game that pitcher must be removed. He can visit the reliever four times too. Here's the thing though. If a catcher visits the mound, it counts as a half-visit. If the pitcher is near home plate and speaks to the catcher, that is a half-visit too! Crazy…

It's also interesting to be involved in a mound visit with the coach, the catcher and interpreter. I've played in Spanish countries and for Spanish coaches. We were always able to communicate without a third party. Over here I have come to rely heavily on that guy!

It's also disrespectful to bowl over a catcher. There is no rule against it but no one does it.

One last funny story, although it was not comical at the time. I've never been a big “dipper” but I do like my sunflower seeds. There is a rule here that you cannot have anything in your mouth, nothing, not even gum. It doesn't matter if you are on the mound or in the dugout. The first day I was here, I was hanging out with some other pitchers in the bullpen just trying to figure out what the heck was going on, with the bands, the bowing, all that stuff. I had some seeds in, no big deal, right? All of a sudden, some little guy runs downs there and hollers at my teammates, “Tell that foreigner to get that stuff out of his mouth!” I later found out that message came from the owner.

Right then and there, I knew I was in for more than just culture shock.

I have really enjoyed my experience in Taiwan so far. I really miss my newborn baby girl and my wife but they understand that daddy is a baseball player. Playoffs crank up for us during the middle of October. We have a very good team and I think we'll do well. I'm told the post-season can be a lot of fun. One thing is for sure, until I hop on that plane, there is a real good chance I'll see more things I've never seen before!

In a country that worships Buddha, eats with chopsticks, rides mopeds instead of cars and serves rice burgers at McDonalds, the biggest adjustments I've had to make have been in baseball. All my life I've been told that the game is one of constant adjustments; I just didn't know it could be this dramatic!

Note: Billy Sylvester grew up in Florence and attended high school at Hudgens Academy. Following his prep career, Sylvester enjoyed a record-setting stint at Spartanburg Methodist College. A year later, he was signed out of a tryout camp as a free agent by Atlanta and ended up spending seven years in the Braves organization, one with the Athletics and one with the Nationals.