Baseball, Pride and National Identity in Taiwan

Each of the players is given a song and dance during the game, although at first glance one might think otherwise, the spectators watch the game and do not hesitate to break the song in celebration.

It’s really a different way to watch the matches than at home, starts the amateur in the Tainan stand. It looks like America where people want to have a beer, chat and eat during the game.

In the festive stands, it’s a magical moment for little Shu-Yun dressed in orange as the local Unilions team (teams are named after their main sponsor, ed. note). Her duvets are constantly swaying from left to right according to dances she already knows by heart.

She already shares the passion of her father, Eddie, who tries to follow her to 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 1990s to watch his team closely.

I often talk about Unilions at home with my daughter. I tell him stories from the past, he says. He knows a lot about the team. Today is his first personal match. She is excited!

The CPBL (China Professional Baseball League) is in its 33rd season. It was formed after the martial law era that ended on the island in 1987. 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 from prostitutes in match-fixing cases. Two of the six teams at the time have made trades at this point.

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 the Taiwanese identity. The 500 New Taiwan dollar note also illustrates a historic moment in Taiwanese baseball, the nation’s first victory against a Japanese team.

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

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

Seated crowd.

A crowd watches a baseball game unfold.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Afore Hsieh

The heat can be stifling in summer in Taiwan. Many fans bring small battery powered floor fans to enjoy the game. A carnival atmosphere reigns in the stadiums of Taiwan as everywhere in Asia. For foreign players like Unilions star pitcher Brock Dykxhoorn of Ontario, it can be confusing.

Portrait of Brock Dykxhoorn at the baseball stadium

Brock Dykxhoorn has a baseball career in Taiwan.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Philippe Leblanc

The deafening noise bothered me during 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 pace, which shouldn’t be done. I really like the atmosphere. It feels like party time and an important Saturday night every night of the week.

Fans sang and danced for almost four hours on a Saturday in early August. The match ended in a landslide victory for the Unilions 11 to 6. Looking at the smiles of the CTBC Brothers supporters, the team that lost that night, it is easy to understand that there are no defeats. Only victory or lesson for the player. What a good time and a few hours to forget all the worries of the weekday for supporters.

Our Asia Correspondent, Philippe Leblanc, will be based in Taiwan over the next few months to introduce us to this island of nearly 24 million people, its society and the challenges that animate it. And also to cover current issues throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

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