CPBL Brings Hope Amid COVID-19 Crisis

The COVID-19 health crisis has had an impact on the world unlike any other crisis in almost a century. For most of us, this will be one of the most defining and unfortunately memorable periods of our lives and its impact will change us forever – not just in the way we live, but what we value.
In addition to the very worrying and very real health impacts of the virus, the economic and social fallout has been immense and largely unrivaled. Unemployment rates have surged to 15-20% in many developed countries and the social distancing or lockdown measures implemented by governments all around the globe have lead to the removal of everything humans hold so dear.
Understandably, people are frightened, having extreme difficulty adjusting to this new way of life, and are craving anything that can produce a momentary feeling of normality. Often, in times of such despair, an unlikely source can bring with it a great deal of comfort, and in this instance, that void is increasingly being filled by a once little-known baseball league in Taiwan.
With global sporting events essentially coming to a standstill in recent months, fans have been starved of live action. Despite the best efforts of social media managers from various sporting teams and leagues, there’s only so many highlights, replays, and simulation games a fan can take. Sooner or later, the novelty wears off and boredom sets in.
Because of this, when the Chinese Professional Baseball League, the top-tier professional baseball league in Taiwan, celebrated its Opening Day last week, the most die-hard of baseball fans, like myself, tuned in to see what was on offer. Not only did we watch, but we also tweeted about it…

Then we watched again, and continued tweeting…

At times, we even translated our names and tweets into the Chinese (Traditional) language to further engage with our new found friends in the Asian island state…

Suddenly, a week had passed and we had tuned every night to catch the action – it had become the new norm. Within the space of just seven days, the CPBL had gone from being somewhat of a novelty, filling the void of a small group of fans online, to surging towards more than a million online viewers each night. Its rise in popularity has been exceptional and come largely on the back of Eleven Sports Taiwan’s wonderful English commentary, which has really struck a chord with viewers in the United States.
In addition to the impressive broadcast, the high quality on-field has surprised many, with some scintillating performances over the first week of the season.
  • Chu Yu-Hsien (Rakuten Monkeys) is hitting .632 (12-for-19) with five home runs and 10 RBI.
  • Lin Li (Rakuten Monkeys) is hitting .476 (10-for-21) with two home runs, two doubles, and nine RBI.
  • Ariel Miranda (Chinatrust Brothers) has struck out 17 in 12 innings, and has a 0.92 ERA.
  • The Rakuten Monkeys are 5-0 and its mashing offense has already scored 50 runs.
  • The Chinatrust Brothers pitchers have struck out 70 in six games, working to a collective 3.41 ERA.
It’s widely believed that the standard of play is similar of that to Double-A or Triple-A in the United States, putting it almost on par with professional leagues in Japan (NPB) and South Korea (KBO). The strength in this domestic product, which is dominated by local players, pays homage to the nation’s No. 4 status in current WBSC rankings and the fans’ love of the game.
These Taiwanese fans are knowledgeable, passionate, respectful and engaged, and above all, they’re incredibly proud of their national league. In addition to the impressive skills on display, footage of a bench-clearing brawl in Sunday night’s action went viral online, with players from opposing teams seen pushing, punching, and kicking each other amidst truly chaotic scenes.

Despite being a rare event in a league built upon foundations of mutual respect between rival teams and umpires alike, where ball and strike calls are rarely debated, footage of the brawl has only enhanced the popularity of the League. With no games scheduled on Monday night (local time), it will be interesting to see if there’s even further growth in online viewership come Tuesday.
For Americans, weekday games start at 6:30am ET, while weekend games are slightly earlier at 5:00am. For those fond of sleeping in, watching the first pitch of a Taiwanese baseball game may not be a high priority, however enjoying late-innings baseball over breakfast is certainly something thousands are starting to embrace.
Whether this growth continues over the coming months remains to be seen, and it will likely depend largely on the potential resumption of MLB. With COVID-19 continuing to run rampant throughout the United States though, this appears to be some way off still and as such, the CPBL is likely to flourish for some time yet.