In my mind, everything we did in the morning of our last day in Taipei was just a precursor to the night’s main event: Baseball! Casey had her beaches, Morgan had her day trip to Wulai, all that was left was my baseball game.
The rain fell softly but uninterrupted throughout the morning. As we devoured our world famous dumplings at Din Tai Fung and debated on the pros and cons of shelling out the money to go up a tall building, I kept sending out an SOS to the god of baseball: no rain delay, no cancelation, no rain delay, no cancelation. My mantra droned on and the afternoon drudged inexorably forward, bringing with it only heavier rains as we made a brief stop in the vast garment district at Wufenpu. Weaving our way through the barely covered alleys, we dodged scooters and leaks, doing our best to stay dry. All the while, I was busy feeding my delusions: “The rain isn’t so bad. I’m sure they’ve had the infield tarp out all day. Everything will clear up and baseball will be played. How could it not?”
The time came. We headed to the subway. Despite the rain, I was lucky to have such wonderful travelers by my side. Neither Casey nor Morgan suggested giving up on the evening’s game and making other plans. They knew how much it meant to me and they stayed positive, sending their own prayers skyward to that great bullpen in the sky. For three-quarters of an hour we were underground, blindfolded from the weather. Exiting the train, depositing our plastic coins in the turnstile, orienting ourselves towards the right exit, all thoughts were on the rain. The escalator inched upwards, the sky broke into view, dim and incomprehensible, without a stable background from which we could identify individual droplets. Hopes soared until the street met the level of our eye: rain! “But soft rain, completely unlike the rain at the clothes market,” my brain insisted. With only a kilometer to walk from the subway station, the rain stopped and then started, feeding our hopes only to dash them. Never wavering, however, our faith was rewarded by the clearing sky that met us at the ticket booths of Hsinchuang Baseball Stadium (or Xinzhuang depending on who’s transliterating it I guess).
After staring at the ticket queues for a minute, we decided to split up. Casey’s line moved the quickest and we merged back together. We bought tickets for 300 NT apiece (about $10) and took a few minutes to wander around the stadium. The game that day was coupled with an event that promoted public transportation and there were many tents set up outside. At one of these tents we could see people lining up for what appeared to be free sack lunches. So we did what anyone would do, we walked up close to the entrance to line and looked confused. In less than a minute, someone walked up to us and asked if we had stamps along with our game tickets. When we told him that we didn’t, he ran off and returned with three stamps, handing them over and ushering us up to receive our lunches. I’m pretty sure that we didn’t have the right tickets for the goodies, but sometimes being a confused tourist pays off. Lunch bag in hand (a hot dog sandwich, a red bean paste filled bun, some weird spicy chips, and a juice box of bubble tea) we looked around for our friend who had promised to meet us. Failing to locate him, we headed for the entrance where we received no less than six bottles of men’s shampoo in return for our ticket stubs (I don’t have to buy shampoo for at least a year now).
The main concourse of Hsinchuang Stadium is spacious and open, offering views of the field as you search for food. The first thing we did is find the merchandise table. Hsinchuang hosts the majority of games for the Taipei Brother Elephants each year and we had already decided that they were our team for the night. Casey and Morgan both bought bright yellow Brother Elephants shirts and I got an Elephants jersey with Chinese characters for around $30. Now the proud owners of some Brother Elephant memorabilia, we went to find our seats, a confusing task due to the lack of section numbers. With a little bit of help from a local, we found our seats and immediately decided to sit a few rows back under the awning and away from the drizzle. At this point, the ground crew was busy rolling up the tarp and the players were stretching on the outfield grass. Game on!
About an inning into the game, our friend finally located us and went to retrieve his girlfriend from behind home plate. Hsinchuang is a pretty, if unoriginal, little ball park. Looking a little bit like a miniature Dodger Stadium, it offers both a modest upper deck and outfield bleachers, seating about 12,500 people in total. That night there were probably around 3,000, so we had no problem finding some comfortable seats with an unobstructed view. Unlike Korean stadiums, the netting around the field does not extend all the way to the foul poles, instead stopping just past the dugout. In other ways, Taiwanese baseball games closely resemble their Korean counterparts. Although the level of play in Korea is a bit higher than in Taiwan, the fans are just as rabid. The chanting and cheering never stops, and the hype man and cheerleaders are up and rousing the crowd every time the home team is at bat. The trumpeters and drummers that accompanied the chanting were fantastic, something I hope catches on in Korea eventually. Luckily for us, we found that most of the words having to do with baseball are generally the same in Mandarin as they are in Korean, allowing us to join in with the main cheers confidently.
The food at Hsinchuang is interesting, although I imagine the lack of options might get old if you were a regular. There are a few 7-11’s located around the main concourse selling snacks and Taiwan Beer for the same prices as you would find outside the stadium. A tallboy of Taiwan Beer ran you about 45 NT, or a whopping $1.50. All of the other food options are small stands which sell a variety of foods that are mostly unique to Taiwan. We had a nibble on our friend’s fried chicken and it proved to be fairly delicious. For our own dinner, we went the more adventurous route and tried a wasabi sausage, a duck burrito, and some pig’s blood cake. My favorite was the wasabi sausage, although the last bite was wasabi heavy and had my nose burning pretty badly. The burrito was tasty, but would have been much better without so many green onions. And the pig’s blood cake was a mystery. I still can’t decide if it was delicious or terrible. It’s basically a deep red hunk of pound cake on a stick, dipped in a mystery sauce and rolled in crushed peanuts. Worth a try if you’re looking for a new experience.
The game itself got off to an exciting start with nearly all the runs being scored in the first few innings before the pitchers settled down. The crowd, however, never did settle down. Despite the slow pace of the game, the trumpets blared and the drums kept beating throughout the night. We all got swept up in the excitement and eventually began to attract a lot of notice. Multiple times throughout the night, the scoreboard would show us, a group of westerners dressed in Elephant yellow, cheering for the home team. People around us smiled and snapped our picture, generally seeming to be pleased with our choice of teams. Unfortunately, our new favorite Taiwanese team ended up falling to the Lions 4-2, a bit of a disappointing outcome for our fantastic night. Regardless, if you’re a baseball fan, or even if you’re just looking for an interesting experience, Taiwanese baseball is worth the admission price and much more. The quality of play may not be amazing, but the unique atmosphere will leave visitors feeling they got their money’s worth.
The easiest way to get to Hsinchuang is via the MRT, Taipei’s excellent subway system. Hop on the yellow line and make sure your train terminates at Hulong, as the yellow line splits before the stop for the stadium. Get off at Xinzhuang Station and go out exit #1. Look to your right and you’ll see a sign for the stadium and the sports complex in which it is situated. The walk from the station is about a kilometer, just follow the signs and the cardboard player cutouts placed along the way. From Taipei Main Station, travel to Hsinchuang will take approximately 45 minutes.