How Taiwan Safely Plays Professional Baseball During a Pandemic
Despite the close proximity to China, origin of the COVID-19 outbreak, Taiwan is a role model for how to properly battle the pandemic. As of May 3, the country has had only 432 total cases with just six deaths. Last week, they enjoyed four straight days without any new cases.
Since April 11, Taiwan has been the only country on Earth playing professional baseball. The Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) consists of four teams, with games featuring cheerleaders dancing in front of stadiums, with robots (some of which play the drums) and cardboard cut-outs the only spectators. Via email, we spoke with a league broadcaster, Richard Wang, who filled us in on CPBL FYIs.
First off, if you're confused by the name, it's a geopolitical issue that is complicated enough to merit another post all by itself. Wang explained how this league is able to safely play amid the pandemic, and how the CPBL might provide a blueprint for Major League Baseball to follow.
"The fact we are able to play baseball reflects the solid achievement of pandemic prevention," said Wang, who is also a WSBC Asia Correspondent.
"The government reacted swiftly, made a quick decision (to close the border) and made sure we will not be short on masks, among other medical resources.
"It was required by the government for CPBL to submit a pandemic prevention plan (with the help of medical personnel and authorities) in order to open the season."
Strict social distancing measures are applied to the players and media.
"In the past, the visiting team would have their post-game meal on the bus on their way back home, but now no one is allowed to eat on the bus (and everyone is required to wear a mask at all times except for drinking water) so alternative arrangements had to be made," said Wang.
"After all, nobody wants to have the season shut down with even one single confirmed case of any person working around the game."
Media members are required to wear masks, and cannot visit the clubhouse or dugout.
"A designated area behind the home plate has been prepared for media (sort of like a mixed zone concept) to conduct interviews in pre and post-game coverage," Wang continued. "Since you cannot get too close to whomever you are interviewing, a microphone system is used."
Manny Ramirez is by far the most famous former Major Leaguer to ply his trade in the CPBL, but the list also includes former big leaguers Armando Galarraga, Freddy Garcia, Melvin Mora, Pascual Perez, Felipe Lopez, Jose Contreras and Nelson Figueroa.
The best way to watch the games in the United States is via Twitter, and Wang credits Simone Kang, Managing Director of Eleven Sports Taiwan, as "the driving force for the CPBL games to be seen worldwide" and "responsible for the sudden popularity of CPBL worldwide."
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly contributes to WGN TV, Sports Illustrated, Chicago Now and SB Nation.