Sunday, August 22, 2004

Just like the good-old days
After five years without Little League Baseball, Chinese Taipei, Taiwan rejoins the organization and finds itself right back in Williamsport for the World Series

By Mark Rogoff

Some things never change, even with a small break in the action.

Chinese Taipei, Taiwan simply dominated the world of Little League Baseball for the better part of three decades. From 1969 to 1997, the small island nation in the Pacific sent 21 teams to the Little League World Series. That's 21 teams in 29 years for those keeping score at home.

Of the 21 teams, 17 returned to their nest as World Series champions, including a string of four straight title holders from 1971-74 and a run of five consecutive champs from 1977-81.

In an 11-year run from 1986-96, a team from Chinese Taipei, Taiwan made a Little League World Series appearance nine times, coming away with seven titles.

The most recent Series participant: the Fu-Hsing Little League All-Stars of Kaohsuing, who were 13-3 winners over Western Little League of Cranston, Rhode Island in the 1996 Series championship game.

After not sending a team to South Williamsport in 1997, Chinese Taipei, Taiwan dropped the Little League program. According to Little League Senior Communications Director Lance Van Auken, Chinese Taipei, Taiwan voluntarily withdrew from Little League Baseball after the 1997 season because culturally they couldn't adhere to Little League Baseball zoning rules.

One league in 2003, however, found a way to meet Little League's zoning guidelines and therefore rejoined the program. This year, a handful more did the same. And sure enough, it didn't take them long to get back to Pennsylvania for the pinnacle of youth sports.

The Shou-Tien Little League All-Stars of Kaohsuing this year won the Asia Regional championship, and are looking to pick up right where their neighbor league left off in 1996. They've already made quite the statement with an 18-0 win over Poland in their first game of pool play.

Manager Cheng Ying-Chun said it feels very good to be back in Williamsport.

"It's a dream come true," he said through interpreter George Chen. "The first thing we want to do here is to continue the tradition of winning championships again and again and again."

Baseball is without a doubt the biggest, most-popular sport in Taiwan according to Ying-Chun. The five-year absence from Little League has no reflection of Taiwan's passion for America's pastime.

The manager said only baseball could make the people of Taiwan wake up at the midnight hour and watch a game live.

"It is our national pastime," he said. "It's only baseball that we can compete with other nations."

The Chinese, Taipei Olympic team finished pool play in Athens with a 3-4 record, with wins against Australia, Greece and the Netherlands.

While a 3-4 mark may not be good enough to reach the medal round, the Shou-Tien tots are poised to reach the single-elimination round of their own tournament in Williamsport.

"I hope the team gets a championship in the pool play, and then after that we'll see," Ying-Chun said. "We go step by step by step. It's not only my wish, but everyone's in Taiwan. They all hope our team can do something big here.

"I want the players to bring back all the cool stuff from here. They can bring the experience back to make Taiwan a better place to play baseball."

As can interpreter George Chen, who is a 25-year-old baseball lover working for the Chinese Taipei Baseball Association. Within hours of sitting down at his desk for his first day on the job as an interpreter earlier this summer, his superiors assigned him to the Shou-Tien Little League All-Stars.

Chen is in the United States for the first time in his life and is loving every minute of it.

"It's a once in a lifetime experience," he said. "The kids are very cute. We have been building some kind of relationship. We didn't even know each other, but as the time goes by we grew to rely on each other."

One of the things the kids need help with is pin trading, of course.

"The kids love trading pins, so they come find me to trade with kids from other nations," Chen said.

Perhaps more importantly than bringing back to Chinese Taipei, Taiwan memories from what happened between the lines, the kids are able to bring back reminiscences of their interaction with other Little Leaguers from around the globe, much to the delight of their manager.

2004 Little League Baseball Incorporated