The Unlikeliest of People, Under the Unlikeliest of Circumstances, In the Unlikeliest of Leagues
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and baseball fans from all around the world welcome to Eleven Sports Taiwan at Taoyuan International Stadium….”
And with that opening from The International Voice of Baseball, Richard Wang, on April 15, 2020, the first-ever English commentary for Taiwan’s CPBL game set off a sequence of events in lives around the world that none of us could have foreseen.
In a year ravaged by COVID-19, the unexpected gift of new friendships, the coming-out party of a ridiculously entertaining sports league, and ultimately, the human connection and bond formed through the game of baseball took center stage and provided a sparkling silver lining in a tumultuous year.
It took the courage and vision (and lots of NTD) of a network exec, Simone Kang, to add English commentary to literally the only professional sports league in the world in operation at the time (check out how here). It took a group of baseball junkies, that all happened to be in the right place at the right time, to come together, and for most, if not all of them, provide English commentary for the first time in their lives.
And it took, you, the fans, to lend your hearts, enthusiasm, and sleepless nights watching the CPBL, to create a family and community that transcended a virus, a presidential election, and a laundry list of other deeply rooted social and political issues.
In the end, tears fell as heartfelt posts on social media tried to capture the roller-coaster of emotions we were all feeling. As orange steamers filled the left-field bleachers, it resonated deeply within each of us that we had experienced something significant, something special, and something unique.
— CPBL STATS (@GOCPBL) November 8, 2020
Clive’s 2020 CPBL Story
“Life is the accumulation of journeys and this unprecedented baseball season of 2020 is certainly one of the most amazing and unbelievable ones in my life.” ~ Richard Wang
For me, it started with a phone call on Thursday evening, April 30, from a friend of mine, Jason Huang. Jason is a Sports Information & Communication professor at the National Taiwan University of Sport, and his friend, Roger Chen, a broadcaster for MomoTV, had called him because they needed a couple of guys last minute to do the English commentary for a Guardians-Lions game the following night.
After clearing it with my Officer in Command (aka my wife!), I was in my car the next afternoon making the two-hour drive down to Tainan for my first experience in a booth. Just a week earlier, I had resigned myself to the fact that it wasn’t going to happen. I sent out resumes and made phone calls…all to no avail. So I could hardly contain my excitement as Jason and I became the Guardians-at-Lions duo. We would sing Take me Out to the Ballgame during the 7th-inning stretch, we would poke fun at stationary and stoic Guardians Manager Hung I-Chung, and we would, of course, talk baseball.
My first job out of college was an interpreting job for then Dodgers top prospect, Chin-Feng Chen (陳金鋒). Since moving back to Taiwan 11 years ago, I’ve also interpreted for teams playing in international tournaments in Taiwan (WBSC Baseball World Championships, Premier 12) and had a 2-year stint with CPBL English, a website dedicated to covering CPBL news in English. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined sitting in a booth and getting paid (5,000 NTD per game, roughly $167 USD for those of you wondering) to call a game.
In many ways, it was a natural fit and the culmination of skills and experiences I’ve been blessed with, all wrapped into one job. Baseball became an obsession when I was six and my dad took me and a bunch of friends to a Dodgers-Astros game for my birthday.
I’ve lived approximately half of my life in Taiwan with the other half in the US so sharing about Taiwan’s culture and baseball in a way that US viewers were accustomed to was fairly natural as well. The learning curve was steep but the work was so much fun! Eventually, I was asked by Kris Wan at Eleven Sports to work some Monkey games and have had just an absolute blast sifting through stats, interviewing and talking to players, and appreciating the game from a whole new perspective.
— ELEVEN SPORTS TAIWAN (@ElevenSportsTW) October 18, 2020
Pottymouth 2020 CPBL Story
“CPBL was there for me at a time when I needed hope…It was encouraging, refreshing, and hopeful to watch how Taiwan dealt with the virus – and to do so through the lens of baseball.”
If being in the booth commentating for a game was unexpected, being a guest on a podcast would equal if not exceed my astonishment. But two baseball fans in Maryland, Pottymouth and Patti, invited me to be a guest on their baseball podcast, No Crying in Baseball (NCIB). Pottymouth (famous people don’t reveal their real names) is a third-generation Red Sox fan, which more than explains her nickname, ha!
One goal of their podcast, in addition to highlighting and promoting women in the game, is to learn and share about baseball that is happening around the world. And because the CPBL was the first and only professional league in the universe playing in April, NCIB was able to devote more time and attention to the league. They eventually found Eleven Sports’ English broadcasts on Twitter and they were hooked.
Citing ties to the Red Sox as her initial reason to support the Lions (Josh Roenicke was a pitcher for the Lions — nephew to then Red Sox Manager Ron Roenicke), catchy cheering songs and dances, along with her ties to Argentina (RF Lin An-Ko 林安可 is half-Argentinian) through her best friend, the Lions quickly became her team despite their underdog status. I’m sure the dashing looks of Lin had nothing to do with him being crowned Pottymouth’s “Baseball Boyfriend” (Carlton “Pudge” Fisk being her initial BBF).
And as fate would have it, Pottymouth’s undying support single-handedly vaulted the team to the CPBL championship, helping her win two bets along the way. The first, that the Lions would win the second half and the second, that they would win the Taiwan Series over the Brothers.
I can tell you that @hsumongous pays up on his bets.
(20% was too low – if you would have put up 75% . . . ?) pic.twitter.com/iw7Ab0uLpA
— No Crying in Baseball Podcast (@NCIBPodcast) November 3, 2020
Michael’s 2020 CPBL Story
“There is a fantastic international fan base that grew during this CPBL season…this league seemed to attract a group of smart, funny, compassionate people…During this pandemic, in a world of social distancing, this CPBL fan base provided me with a sense of community that I really needed.” ~ Michael Barra
With no live baseball in sight, actor Michael Barra was left watching a computer-simulated game between the Hartford Yard Goats (his favorite MiLB team) and the Rocket City Trash Pandas. After playfully posting a clip of the game on FB, a friend of his alerted him to the fact that Taiwan’s pro league was indeed playing live baseball.
Michael set his alarm for the next morning and he was sold. Like Pottymouth, the Lions became his team but for very different reasons. Enter Ryan and Sababoy, arguably the most dynamic mascot duo ever. Add to that the singing and dancing, the high octane offense (on 9/27, the Lions climbed back from an 18-0 deficit…to eventually lose the game 20-15!), and the first fans in the world being allowed into a game, and you have enough inspiration to start your own podcast.
And that is exactly what Michael did. In 13 episodes, Baseball World has gone from a 10-minute introductory episode to hour-long interviews with players, interpreters, and broadcasters. From his bold attempts at pronouncing player names to his deep dive into each player’s baseball journey, Michael’s podcast added an insiders element to CPBL’s increasing international fandom.
As another Red Sox fan himself (I promise, no more Lion-combos), influenced by his third-grade teacher, the Lions were an easy team to follow because of Roenicke and also C Lin Yo-Le’s (林佑樂) familial ties to Red Sox utility player Lin Tzu-Wei (林子偉). With a love for numbers, history, and enjoying a beer in the stands on a nice summer evening, Michael’s love and passion for the sport continues to grow every year.
?⚾️ My #UniLions merch came today! I’ve enjoyed watching the @CPBL so much, and getting this in the mail put a big smile on my face. (Thanks @USPS!) Plus the Lions won today, and I’m scheduled to interview a current CPBL player for my podcast, Baseball World, later this week. pic.twitter.com/rk8PzbVBEb
— Michael Barra (@MichaelBarra) August 19, 2020
Keith’s 2020 CPBL Story
“I love how in a baseball game you can have situations where a game is going one way and with one hit or a double play, it can turn on its head…I think we got grabbed by the unpredictability of games…I certainly would like to visit one day…who knows?” ~ Keith Wickham
Travel approximately 3,226 miles east across the Atlantic Ocean from where Michael lives in Connecticut and you will find yourself in Reading, England. In Reading, you will find Keith Wickham, an American football official (I had no idea they played the other kind of football in England)!
Keith was first exposed to baseball in 2005 while he was in the US for the purpose of watching live football games. He and a friend were in Tampa where there was a 2-for-1 Tuesday night ticket promotion that they decided to check out. Two nights later, they were in Houston for Roger Clemens’ start, one night after his mother passed away, and have been following the Astros ever since. Keith enjoys the unpredictability of the game and how it is a social event. Everything from the MLB to the minors to independent ball, Keith appreciates how baseball at each level is a reflection of the local or national culture.
Although Keith doesn’t remember exactly how he heard about the CPBL, he does remember being in between jobs due to the pandemic and needing something to fill his time at home. Trying to quench his thirst for live sports, Keith eventually found his way to the CPBL, called up his friend Roger to tune in as well, and the result is a group of five buddies that have a private FB group dedicated to the CPBL.
As with most groups composed of sports guys, friendly banter and silliness is the norm as messages and texts are tossed back and forth. Each member of the group picked a team in the early going with Keith landing with the Fubon Guardians and running with “Hu’s on first” puns for months. Together, they enjoyed the unpredictability of games, the newness of what they were witnessing culturally and sportswise, and just the fact that socially they were able to interact and laugh with each other.
Fubon Guardians are selling 胡金龍 (Hu Chin-Lung) 1000th career hit merchandise. Last night, Hu became the 23rd #CPBL player to reach that milestone. As for why they used a golf ball? Well, Hu Chin-Lung is quite a competent golfer. People often joked that baseball is his 2nd job. pic.twitter.com/35k7kuhKUG
— CPBL STATS (@GOCPBL) April 19, 2020
Alyson’s 2020 CPBL Story
“I credit the broadcast. I would not have gotten into the league without it…I wouldn’t have fallen in love…CPBL wanted me around. This came through very clearly in the broadcast. I can’t stress strongly enough how important that was for me…A big part of that was Wayne and Richard…During a time when we were all emotionally drained, we were invited into CPBL’s home and made to feel welcome and comfortable.” ~ Alyson Mitchell
Finally, there is Alyson Mitchell (@infieldflygrl), the glue that brought international CPBL fans together and arguably the most dedicated and passionate member of CPBL Fandom (did you get a cutout of yourself to a Monkeys game? AND a picture with that game’s English broadcast crew?!)
— Infield Fly Girl (@infieldflygrl) October 9, 2020
As with many baseball fans, Alyson’s journey began with her dad. In Tampa. With the Cubs? With local Tampa Bay games being blacked out unless it was sold out, Alyson took to the Cubs, whose games were nationally televised on WGN during the ‘98 epic home run battle between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire.
From that point on, there were alleyway stickball and Wiffle ball games, there was neighborhood pick up games during the summer in her Pop’s backfield, until now, there is the Rakuten Monkeys. Always drawn to the backstop position from her “playing” days, the trio of Lin Hung-Yu, Liao Chien-Fu, and Yen Hung-Jun stole her heart. The rest of the team (Yang Yao-Hsun in particular) cemented the Monkeys as her team permanently.
Well this will certainly take some of the sting off the end of the season.
Goodness Clive, what an awesome gift. I'm over the moon right now. Thank you.
Pictured: a baseball, in a case, signed by Rakuten Monkeys' C/DH Lin Hung-Yu, which is for some reason in my hands.
— Infield Fly Girl (@infieldflygrl) October 26, 2020
Alyson’s path to the CPBL started like many others…she missed baseball. And although she probably would have watched the games, she would not have “fallen in love” if not for the English broadcasts. She credits Richard and Wayne (@WayneSMcNeil) for not only introducing the stats and storylines of Taiwan baseball to the world, but also its culture, its food, and its little nuances in an inviting and appealing way.
The broadcasts connected you to the CPBL and made you a part of the family. Alyson then extended that connection on social media as she created a chat group on Twitter (40 steadfast members) to answer questions, to talk trash during a game, and to, in essence, become family. At the height of the west coast states dealing with wildfires, Alyson was, at one point, evacuated from her home. I can safely say that I am not the only one that was touched to see messages of encouragement and support being sent her way as her home was in danger of being incinerated. What started out as a common interest, now bound together and provided comfort.
it's a matter that's very close to my heart as a cardboard baseball fan myself pic.twitter.com/VJNRHrcl86
— Infield Fly Girl (@infieldflygrl) October 30, 2020
“It’s been 5 hours since the last out of the 2020 season was made…I got back to Taipei, turned off the lights, and laid in my bed that I fully realized the historic 2020 CPBL season has come to a close…(one week later, after CPBL Awards Ceremony) That last 10 minutes on the way home was about as emotional as I can get, LOL, knowing that it basically ended tonight.” ~ Daniel Shih
To #CPBL Twitter,
— CPBL 中華職棒 (@CPBL) November 8, 2020
For Game 7 of the Taiwan Series, I was invited to a Discord chat room where CPBL fans had gathered. While the live game feed was playing with the audio muted on Twitter, you could listen in to fan Patrick Melbourne (@PatrickMSports, creates killer sports media content) and Rob (creator of CPBL Stats, Taiwan’s premier CPBL site in English) commentating the game.
Games 1, 2, 6, and 7 did not have English commentary so Patrick opened up the chat room for fans to talk about the game and still have English commentary. There was also Joe-Joe, a British expat living in Japan. There was Traveling Panda, who was tuning in from Germany. Kevin, a film subtitler living in Hong Kong. And of course Pottymouth, Michael, and Infieldflygrl among others.
As a teacher and counselor, one goal is to not just “give a man a fish and feed him for a day, but to teach him how to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” This is how I felt as I admired the passion and resolve of these dedicated fans. They were thinking outside the box and going above and beyond to continue something that I had a small part in providing. It felt humbling, yet rewarding. I was honored to be a part of this community.
As I sort through my thoughts and fail miserably at putting on paper what I am trying to say, I guess what I ultimately want to convey is gratitude and to have an opportunity to say 謝謝 (thank you). Thank you to international fans for your love, support, and feedback.
Thank you for accepting us into your lives, your homes, and your hearts. Thank you for teaching me about the game and for showing me new perspectives. Thank you for sharing your fandom in your unique ways. Thank you for embracing one of the most entertaining and fun leagues in the world. Thank you for appreciating our efforts in battling COVID-19. Thank you for being willing to learn about another culture, language, and world through the game of baseball.
Thank you, when unpredictability is the norm, for being a constant source of inspiration to be better. And thank you, when grief and loss have become all too common, for the start of something new, something genuine, and something magical as reflected through the intrinsic beauty of the game we all love.
In the end, was I sappier than I usually am? Absolutely! But that’s the effect this CPBL season has had on so many of us. As the pandemic rages on, my prayer is that you will be able to reflect upon part of your year and find uplifting moments and encouraging stories that give you hope and strength to continue to persevere. I sure hope the stories shared here (so many others) were able to.
I am positive I did not do near enough justice to the answers that Pottymouth, Michael, Keith, and Alyson graciously provided. Please read their answers in full here.
Richard started it, so he might as well end it…”until next time, so long everybody!”
About the Author
Clive used to operate the CPBL English website and has done work with the CTBA and the Dodgers as an interpreter. In 2020, he became one of the English commentators for Eleven Sports Taiwan. You can find Clive on Twitter @hsumongous.