Live sports aren’t being played now in most of the world due to the novel coronavirus. The NBA and NHL suspended their seasons, and Major League Baseball cancelled spring training as of March 12 and the regular season is currently on hold.
But real baseball is actually being played in at least one place in the world, and for those of us starved for any live baseball, some games from the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) are being televised live on Twitter by Eleven Sports Taiwan.
The games aren’t at the most convenient time for those of us in the USA. The CPBL’s weeknight games begin at 6:35 p.m. local time, which is 5:35 a.m. CT. On weekends, they’re even earlier — 5:05 p.m. local, or 4:05 a.m. CT. But if you wake up early, you can at least catch the ends of these games. Even without fans in the stands, they look and sound somewhat close to what you’d expect from baseball on TV, although without the crowd roaring. I watched the end of a couple of these games, and Richard Wang and Wayne McNeil provide entertaining commentary. Here’s Wang’s call of a home run a few days ago that gave the Rakuten Monkeys the lead in a wild 11-10 game:
After the games, they present a game MVP award, complete with a speech given by the player who is so awarded. This is the entire game from April 18, a 12-9 win by the Rakuten Monkeys over the Fubon Guardians. Scroll in to 4:56:00 to see the MVP ceremony:
⚾| 2020/4/18 1630(GMT+8) #LIVE Pro-baseball game here in #Taiwan on ELEVEN SPORTS. Watch here for the 2020 #CPBL regular season #FubonGuardians vs #RakutenMonkeys @fubonguardians— ELEVEN SPORTS TAIWAN (@ElevenSportsTW) April 17, 2020
@RakutenMonkeys#ForTheFans #ELEVENSPORTS in ENGLISH!!! https://t.co/kJiaWsZVgg
You might recall this meme from a time when Hu, as a Dodger, was on first base:
During Sunday’s game between the Monkeys and the Guardians, tempers flared:
This clearly isn’t the best way to social-distance during the pandemic. Fortunately, no one was injured during this kerfuffle, and no one was ejected, either.
The games are a lot of fun and the ones I’ve watched have been pretty high-scoring. I had the opportunity to have a Q-and-A with the English-language play-by-play announcer for Eleven Sports Taiwan, Richard Wang. Here, lightly edited, is a transcript:
AY: How did these English-language broadcasts come about?
RW: It was initiated by Eleven Sports Network Taiwan as they are the rightsholder for the Rakuten Monkeys and the Uni-President 7-11 Lions. Simone Kang, the general manager of Eleven Sports Taiwan, felt it would be the right thing to do (at the right time) to promote Taiwanese baseball to the world especially when all sports are being halted by the pandemic. In addition to showcasing Taiwanese baseball she thought that it would be a great service to provide live sports action to those whose lives are effected by the pandemic.
AY: How does it feel broadcasting from an empty stadium?
RW: It is certainly odd since we are used to see thousands and thousands of fans jumping up and down, singing songs and playing trumpets, drums, and other instruments from the first at-bat to the final one. As I like to say, it is like a rock concert without intermission.
However, the club still plays music from the sound system, and the cheer girls are still there dancing throughout the entire game.
AY: What is your previous experience with baseball broadcasting?
RW: I started to broadcast MLB games in 2014 with FOX Sports Taiwan. I also called games on radio in 2002 and 2003 for CPBL (as a CPBL staffer). All of the above was broadcast in Mandarin. I never broadcast baseball games in English until five nights ago.
AY: Will these broadcasts continue? Will you be doing games other than Rakuten Monkeys games?
RW: I certainly hope so. We will be getting notice from Eleven Sports Network. The earliest broadcasting schedule should start next Friday as the Lions returns to Tainan for their home series.
AY: You have mentioned the cardboard cutouts in the seats a few times. How do you feel about those?
RW: First of all, it is a great, great creative idea. The cardboard cutouts, mannequins, and robot drummers are the only “persons” in the stands and it provides a sense of “being” while there is really nobody in the stands. Another cool idea is that fans can pay the club for their headshots to be posted on the cardboard cutouts to “represent” them while they cannot come into the stadium in person.
I and my broadcasting partner also make fun of the cardboard cutouts from time to time when a foul ball hits them.
AY: Tell me a bit about your partner Wayne McNeil and how you two got to be a broadcast team.
RW: Wayne is an enthusiastic baseball fan with so much knowledge of local baseball (CPBL). Wayne has lived in Taiwan for 17 years. I got to know him in 2015 since I was responsible to recruit an English commentator for the WBSC Premier12 baseball tournament. I was the one who organized the tryout and made the selection for the task. I recruited Wayne and two of his friends and they did a great job. Wayne also has broadcasted WWE so he was not a stranger to sports broadcasting.
When I was asked by Simone regarding the partner(s) I may need, I thought about him right away.
AY: Is there anything else you’d like to say about your Eleven Sports Taiwan broadcasts?
RW: I want to take this opportunity (if I may) to express our appreciation to all international fans out there for their support and unbelievable feedback. I also want to thank them for all their kind and encouraging words.
The fact we are able to show our baseball to the world reflects the solid achievement Taiwan has achieved regarding the pandemic prevention. As we are bringing baseball games to the world, I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of medical personnel and frontline workers for their sacrifice and hard work.
I also feel proud to be able to be the part of the driving force by providing baseball games to the world as a form of entertainment, a way to provide comfort, an encouraging message to those suffering from the pandemic in any form. Please stay strong, safe and healthy as we will walk through this difficult period of time together, and we will continue to bring our baseball games to fans all over the world.
I want to thank Richard Wang for taking time out of his very busy broadcast days to answer my questions. I’ve truly been enjoying the Eleven Sports Taiwan broadcasts and they are certainly a welcome respite from the pandemic.
Seeing live baseball, even under these unusual conditions, is a nice early-morning distraction for those of us in the USA. They might even have a lesson for MLB moguls:
A lesson in the power of accessible broadcasts... (cc: MLB)@ElevenSportsTW has covered @RakutenMonkeys games in English, via easy access stream = now 60% Monkeys fans— Baseball Brit (@BaseballBrit) April 18, 2020
More interest in teams will develop when baseball is easy to find, share online & fun to watch. End blackouts! pic.twitter.com/3UVqeA98oC
Here’s Richard Wang and Wayne McNeil in the broadcast booth in Taiwan:
Thanks again, Richard and Wayne. You are bringing much happiness to baseball fans all over the world. I look forward to your next broadcast.