The 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series: A Smashing Success for China and Professional Baseball

Who can create the perfect template for the unification of countries and cultures? Major League Baseball(MLB) and the Major League Players Association(MLPA) may have recently succeeded in bringing the Pacific Rim communities closer together while uniting the Republic of China and the United States through a common love for competitive professional sports. During the first week of November in a joint effort to promote the game of baseball internationally and showcase talent from around the world, MLB and MLPA presented the 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series–five sold-out exhibition goodwill baseball games between the U.S. Major League Baseball All-Stars and the Chinese Taipei national team in three different cities in the Republic of China including XinZhuang Stadium in New Taipei City, Inter-continental Stadium in Taichung, and Cheng-Ching Lake Stadium in Kaohsiung. Although the MLB All-Stars were victorious in all of the match ups, the Chinese Taipei national team kept the MLB All-Stars in check and were resilient throughout the games. The Chinese Taipei national team players flashed their speed offensively on the bases and their prowess defensively on the field, striving to be competitive with baseball’s premier league’s elite in all five contests. At the press conference following the conclusion of the five-game series, MLB All-Star Manager and 2010 World Series Champion San Francisco skipper Bruce Bochy praised the Chinese Taipei national team: “It could have gone either way,” said Bochy. “Sure, we won five games, but you could see their confidence growing and they were playing right there with us. It’s good for baseball and for Taiwan. A lot of these are young players playing against the best players in the world, and they were fighting hard. It was a great experience for all of us. We’ve had a great time.”

Based on the public address announcer’s banter and ongoing never give up attitude late into the games, the reactive and enthusiastic crowd’s non-stop chanting and thunder stick thumping, and the live band’s nonstop horn playing and drumming, the real winner of the Taiwan All-Star Series were the baseball fans who wholeheartedly appreciated the games and adorned both teams’ players. The highly successful Taiwan All-Star Series prominently displayed two of Asia’s finest active MLB All-Star pitchers donning their native Chinese Taipei home team uniform–Washington Nationals Chien-Ming Wang and Detroit Tigers lefty reliever Ni Fu-Te. Following his starting pitching performance in the series finale at Cheng-Ching Lake Stadium in Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s pride and joy baseball–Chien-Ming Wang received a bone-chilling standing ovation from his fellow countrymen and teammates. Having pitched for Chinese Taipei in the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Baseball Classic, the left-hand throwing Fu-Te Ni became a fan favorite in the Chinese Professional Baseball League. Detroit Tiger pitcher Ni Fu-Te started in game four against the MLB All-Stars and fared very well facing his big league foes, only allowing two hits and one earned run in 3 1/3 innings pitched. Missing in action was Taiwanese-born MLB Los Angeles Dodgers Hong-Chih Kuo, who was expected to pitch for the Chinese Taipei national team but instead upon the recommendation of his team doctor skipped the 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series to undergo surgery on his left elbow. With its wealth of talented baseball players, Taiwan is a breeding ground for tomorrow’s MLB All-Stars. Smiling with an ear-to-ear grin, MLB Asia vice president Jim Small looks at the big picture when commenting on the success of the 2011 Taiwan All-Stars Series: “We would love to come back to Taiwan, especially when you see the reception we’ve gotten. I think there’s no doubt that we’ll be back here again.”

Perhaps the highlight of the 2011 Taiwan All-Stars Series was what took place before the international competition began. Although rain would not only delay but cut game one of the five-game series short, the sold-out New Taipei City XinZhuang Stadium crowd’s spirits were not dampened and relished in the sheer excitement which brought together two distinctly different countries and cultures. After the United States and the People’s Republic of China national anthems were played, the international delegation which included Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou was introduced. President Ma threw out the ceremonial first-pitch and welcomed the visiting MLB All-Stars to Taiwan. He encouraged friendly competition among the players and fans for the common love of the game. President Ma also presented a trophy to MLB Washington Nationals pitcher Chien-Ming Wang for his invaluable contribution to the international sport of baseball. With a newly signed one-year four-million dollar deal for the 2012 season with the Nationals, the sky is the limit for Wang’s impact on professional baseball worldwide. If there is ever to be a Yao Ming of baseball, it’s Chien-Ming Wang, the former New York Yankees ace and MLB.com 2006 Starting Pitcher of the Year. Orchestrating the media circus that surrounded the 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series, MLB Asia’s Jim Small explained why Wang is a big deal: “You can see the fervor that surrounds him. I’ve spent a lot of time here, and he’s the first Taiwanese global superstar. Not just baseball. Not just sports. He’s made Taiwan famous in the U.S. and around the world. Part of it is that he’s a great pitcher and he has two 19-win seasons. That’s obvious. But it’s more than that. He’s a physically imposing guy. He’s so big and so special. That adds to it as well. It creates an aura about him.” As Bob Marley sang, “there’s a natural mystic flowing through the air” and Chien-Ming Wang certainly is a major player in baseball’s bright future in Asia. With continued cooperation and mutual understanding between China and the U.S., it is just a matter of time before a whole new generation of professional players and fans sprout from the seeds of mutual respect and cultural awareness.

Chinese God of the Land AKA Pitcher Fu-Te Ni Summoned to Reclaim Taiwan All-Star Series

It may be a case of divine intervention to help the young and talented Chinese Taipei national team after suffering three consecutive to Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Stars in the five-game 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series. Enter Taiwanese-born Fu-Te Ni–often referred to by Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) fans as “Tu Di Gong” or “Fu Teh Cheng Shen” because his given name is the same as the formal name for the Chinese God of the Land–taking the mound Saturday, November 5th at Kaohsiung’s Cheng-Ching Lake Stadium to the delight of mortal and deity beings everywhere and restoring balance in these seemingly lopsided exhibition games.

Having pitched for Chinese Taipei in the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Baseball Classic, the lefty Fu-Te Ni soon became a fan favorite in the Chinese Professional Baseball League. In 2009 Ni signed a minor league contract with the Toledo Mud Hens, the Triple-A affiliate for the Detroit Tigers. It didn’t take long for Ni to be the first player to transition from the CPBL to MLB when he was called up by the Tigers in June 2009, becoming the sixth Taiwanese player to enter the big leagues.

Ni made his major league debut on June 29, 2009 in relief of Rick Porcello against the Oakland A’s. His first major league match up was no small feat as the once famous Moneyball all-star who got away, Jason Giambi stood sixty feet away. Ni would strike out the left-hand hitting slugger and two other batters in 1.2 innings of relief. Mixing a four-seam fastball with a change-up and slider, Fu-Te Ni kept the hitters off-balance. Offering no free passes to first base with precision pitch control, Ni threw 21 of his 27 pitches for strikes. Later Tigers manager Jim Leyland commented, “He’s not afraid. That’s what I like about him. He’s got a little hitch of giddy-up.” In his first season with Detroit, Fu-Te Ni put away some of MLB’s best including Grady Sizemore, Asdrubal Cabrera, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Nick Markakis, Luke Scott, Adam Jones and Aubrey Huff.  Opponents batted just .187 against Ni, and he became a reliable left-hander out of the Tigers bullpen. Most impressive, however, was his American League relievers-leading 8.6 percent of inherited runners to score statistic(3-35).

In 2010 hitters began to take advantage of Ni’s troubles in hitting the low-end of the strike zone and locating the breaking ball against left-handed hitters, resulting in a catapulting .290 batting average against the left-hand throwing hurler. He struck out 22 batters over 23 innings, but also gave up 19 walks before being sent down to Triple-A Toledo. Although he had participated in the 2011 Tigers Spring Training Camp, Ni split his time as a starter and reliever in the International League, where he started 12 games and posted a 6-3 record with a 3.24 ERA. In 111 innings pitched, Ni struck out 93 and walked 34.

Equipped with renewed confidence and control of his pitches, Chinese Taipei’s Fu-Te Ni is ready to redeem himself in the eyes of the MLB skeptics in the Taiwan All-Stars Series. Of all the players on the MLB All-Stars roster, only the recently awarded 2011 Silver Slugger winner New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano and 2011 Rawlings Gold Glove recipient Los Angeles Angels of Angels Shortstop Erick Aybar have faced Ni in Major League action. As a former 2009 Detroit Tigers teammate of MLB All-Star Curtis Granderson–who was crowned “American League Outstanding Player” in the 2011 Players Choice Awards and also recipient of a 2011 Silver Slugger Award, Fu-Te Ni held Cano hitless. In 2010 Aybar did not fare any better as he struck out in his only at bat against Ni. The writing is on the wall and in the sky for the Chinese God of the Land that “Tu Di Gong” is back with a vengeance to earn his Chinese Taipei national team their first victory against his fellow MLB All-Stars.

No High Five for Chinese Taipei’s Kuo-Hui Lo: Sliding Home Sends Taiwanese-born MLB Minor Leaguer to Disabled List & Hospital for Surgery

Late in the fifth inning of game two of the Taiwan All-Star Baseball Series at Taichung Intercontinental Stadium with his Chinese Taipei national team tied with the MLB All-Stars 2-2, Kuo-Hui Lo–a promising center fielder in Seattle Mariners farm system–singled and later stole second base off MLB relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins. In his attempt to score from second base for Chinese Taipei on a single by fellow Taiwanese-born MLB minor leaguer Chun-Hsiu Chen–a budding catching prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization, Lo slid awkwardly into home plate, catching his leg underneath his body. Unfortunately for Chinese Tapei, MLB All-Star rightfielder Josh Reddick threw a rocket home to catcher Ronny Paulino, who applied the tag on Lo for the third out to end the inning. It may have been a big break for the MLB All-Stars to stop the Chinese Tapei national team rally, but it was nothing compared to the injuries sustained to Kuo-Hui Lo, who during his unorthodox slide suffered multiple leg fractures and a severely dislocated ankle. He was taken off the field in a stretcher and rushed to the hospital for surgery assisted by a MLB physician. It is reported that Lo will be on the disabled list for at least three months. Not only would the Chinese Taipei national team lose one of its star players for the remainder of the exhibition series, but they would also end up losing its second consecutive game to the MLB All-Stars 5-3.

Prior to entering the Taiwan All-Star Series, Kuo-Hui Lo was playing for the Seattle Mariners AA affiliate, Southern League’s Jackson Generals in Tennessee, where he enjoyed playing day games based on his .533 batting average in five contests and overall earned what many would consider a comparably modest .335 on base percentage in 49 games. In April 2009 as a member of the single A High Desert Mavericks, Lo was voted Offensive Player of the Week in the California League when he blasted off 4 home runs in 5 games. Lo set the bar high in the California League all season long as he led all players overall in triples and slugging percentage. Kuo-Hui Lo’s fundamental level swing, quick wrists, and strong hips generate good bat speed and torque. The Seattle Mariners hope Lo can live up to their high expectations and make his way safely to the Major League dish barring any future injury…

Republic of China and USA Rejoice for Unity at Start of 2011 Taiwan All-Star Baseball Series

Although rain would not only delay but cut game one of the five-game series between the Chinese Tapei National Baseball Team and the Major League Baseball(MLB) All-Stars short, the sold-out New Taipei City XinZhuang Stadium crowd’s spirits were not dampened and relished in the sheer excitement which brought together two distinctly different countries and cultures. After the United States and the Republic of China national anthems were played, the international delegation which included Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou was introduced.

President Ma threw out the ceremonial first pitch and welcomed the visiting MLB All-Stars to Taiwan. He encouraged friendly competition among the players and fans for the common love of the game. President Ma also presented a trophy to MLB Washington Nationals pitcher Chien-Ming Wang–wearing a Chinese Taipei uniform–for his invaluable contribution to the international sport of baseball. The anticipation of Wang taking the mound will have to simmer until this weekend when the Taiwanese-born superstar will be the starting pitcher for the Chinese Tapei squad and square up against his fellow MLB All-Stars at Cheng-Ching Lake Stadium in Kaohsiung.

With news today that the Washington Nationals and Wang’s agent, Alan Nero, have agreed in principle on a one-year deal, a three inning or 60 pitch limit for Wang will be strictly adhered to according to Taiwan national team manager Chen Wei-Cheng. MLB Network will televise the remaining scheduled Taiwan All-Star Series games on November 3rd  & 4th at Intercontinental Stadium in Taichung, and November 5th & 6th at Chengcing Lake Stadium in Kaohsiung. With the exception of a 2 pm(PST) start time on November 5th, first pitch is scheduled for 6 pm(PST) every night.

Chinese Taipei Baseball All-Star Chien-Ming Wang + The Unknown Factor Against Kung Fu Panda & MLB All-Stars = 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series

Could this be the Year of the Panda? Coined “Kung Fu Panda” for jumping over a catcher at home plate to score a run and demonstrating acrobatic play at the end of the 2008 season by San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito, switch-hitting infielder Pablo Sandoval from Venezuela has been at the center of “panda-monium” since the Giants won the 2010 World Series. Kung Fu Panda’s good luck charm and real-life manager, San Francisco Giants skipper Bruce Bochy, is also the manager for the visiting MLB All-Stars during the five-game 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series against the talented Chinese Taipei National Baseball Team. Sandoval will be eating his share of fortune cookies as he faces off against MLB’s Taiwanese-born pitcher Chien-Ming Wang in a Chinese Taipei uniform and a slew of unknown hurlers for the first time ever in Taiwan. Sandoval is not alone as only four of the players on the MLB All-Stars roster have had any at bats against MLB.com’s 2006 Starting Pitcher of the Year.  In the 2006 and 2007 seasons during which Wang led the New York Yankees pitching staff with nineteen wins each year, infielder Ty Wigginton batted a respectable .353 and outfielder Curtis Granderson put together a lukewarm .273 batting average against Wang. More recently this season, utilityman Emilio Bonifacio and pitcher Dillion Gee managed to squeak a hit each during Chien-Ming Wang’s comeback year after a long bout with injuries, surgery and rehab assignments. Former New York Yankee teammate and current MLB All-Star Robinson Cano looks forward to seeing Wang–even if he is playing for Chinese Taipei. He commented, “Wang’s a good person both on and off the field, and he always works hard on the mound. I’m happy to see that he’s back from his injury, and I believe he’ll be able to continue to maintain his health and have a bright future.”