While the United States is busy formulating plans to get back to having sports, even as there are places where the coronavirus pandemic has yet to peak, Taiwan provided a glimpse on Wednesday of what that return to play might look like, as well as what competent handling of a situation actually does look like.
Eleven Sports Taiwan streamed the game between the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions and the Rakuten Monkeys on Twitter, and it turned out they needed to start a second stream five and a half hours later, because the teams from Tainan City and Taoyuan City needed 12 innings to settle things.
I tuned in when it was 7-7 in the eighth inning, following back-to-back Lions homers to tie the game. And, for at least a little while, I got to enjoy something approaching normal: answering endless questions from my baseball-crazed 5-year-old son about every last detail of everything happening.
Why was that a ball?
What’s that on the catcher’s chest?
Are the Monkeys the home team? I’m rooting for them because lions are meat-eaters.
Why are there robots in the stands?
Why are the cheerleaders dancing in a circle?
Was that a replay?
Why are there zeroes under “E?”
Soon enough, there was a one under “E” for the Monkeys, as an error led to the Lions taking the lead against former Rangers and Reds reliever Lisalverto Bonilla in the top of the 10th inning.
The fun, though, was just beginning, because Chu Yu-Hsien, last year’s CPBL home run leader, blasted his second home run of the game in the bottom of the 10th to keep the Monkeys in the game.
Two innings later, Chu created a weird memory that will last forever. His blast into the empty right field seats put him right alongside Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes in the club of guys you’d never heard of before who hit three homers on Opening Day, and gave the Monkeys a 9-8 walk-off win.
It was weird, it was fun, and… it was as good as it’s going to get. We might now be Rakuten Monkeys fans in my house, especially retconning to include Radhames Liz being a 16-game winner and leading the league in strikeouts for them last year, but it’s all bittersweet and this was the maximum for sweet.
As time goes by, and the Monkeys and the rest of the CPBL play their season, and maybe Korean baseball starts appearing on ESPN, it’s going to serve partly as a much-needed sports fix, but also very much as a reminder of the horrendous job that the American government has done responding to the pandemic — a horrendous job that has cost thousands of lives, and will cost thousands more.
Sports cannot change that. Bringing back American sports too soon will only make it worse. Continuing to watch sports from elsewhere in the world will only highlight the contrast between America and the countries of the world with functioning governments.
But for a few hours on Wednesday, it was possible to get lost in the pure joy of watching a baseball game with players you’ve never heard of, in a stadium with robots and cardboard cutouts of mask-wearing fans in the stands, a walk-off celebration with plastic clapping hands, shaken-up water bottles, and the boundless jubilation of a team starting a sure-to-be-bizarre season in a place that shows there really is a light at the end of this tunnel we’re stuck in here.