An inside look at how Taiwan reintroduced baseball fans with U of I grad Sean Kramer

TAIWAN — Professional sports organizations are working to find ways to resume their seasons safely, but Taiwan is already allowing fans to attend their major league baseball games.

University of Idaho graduate Sean Kramer was a sports reporter out of college, and has now taught English overseas for several years. Right now, he’s doing both in Taiwan.

Kramer attended the first professional sports event since the coronavirus pandemic outbreak shut down countless events across the globe. Taiwan’s major league baseball is part of the Chinese Professional Baseball League. It operates with four teams, and Kramer primarily covers the Fubon Guardians.

He spoke with 4 News Now’s Alyssa Charlston over Zoom from Taiwan to detail his experience at the ballpark.

“It was emotional because it’s just a reminder that, there is a lot of bad things happening in the world right now, but in Taiwan, there’s a big feeling of hope and this baseball league is a big part of that.”

Four teams play in Taiwan’s Major League and the start of their season was delayed about a month this year because of the coronavirus. They returned to play quickly, because in a country full of 24 million people, only 444 have tested positive for the coronavirus, with six deaths.

“For the people here in Taiwan, who, really worked together as a community, as a culture to fight this pandemic, for them to be in that ball park, for them it was less like a relief and more just a reaffirmation that they’re doing the right things.”

“They were really happy, they were really proud of the way Taiwan has handled it.”

So, how did they handle a maximum of 1,000 spectators, wanting to get into a stadium at one time?

“They had a big body temperature scanner, so you would stand in the circle and it would scan your body temperature, one person at a time. then they had to go up the stairs, and they had to declare where they traveled the last 14 days and if they have come in contact with anyone who was quarantined or had a positive case. Then they were able to go to the front gate, give their ticket, alcohol spray, then they go in and they have assigned seats. they cannot move around their seats during the game.

Every fan had two seats to their left, two seats to the right empty and the row in front of them and the row behind them were empty. even families had to adhere to this.”

Just because they couldn’t sit together, does not mean they didn’t celebrate together.

“They were doing like air first bumps and pointing at each other, the fans all have coordinated songs for certain players that come with dances you know stuff like that. It’s never quiet. It’s never quiet here it’s kind of wild so if you like the calm baseball atmosphere maybe this isn’t for you.”

Before Friday night, Taiwan’s baseball teams played in front of cardboard fans and plastic mannequins…to the tune of robot drummers. Not having fans was tough for a league with such high energy games, they might get confused for a rave dance party.
“Every team has their own like homer dugout dance. like the Rakuten Monkeys do a “coffin dance” from Ghana.”

You might want to look that one up.

How do the fans feel, and how did Kramer feel, in terms of protection?

“I felt very protected in fact when I was trying to interview one of the fans during the game, one of the staff came up and said no no no, you’re too close.”

Not too close in proximity to each other, but finally close to the sport they love.

“I talked to two different fans and they both literally said the words ‘baseball is life.'”

Three words that hit home for fans in America, too. Taiwan’s population is not even 10 percent of the United States…but they’re still creating a path forward that we might adopt

“One of the fans told me, ‘look if other countries around the world can just do what Taiwan’s doing, they can have baseball back too.’ Now it was a little easy here, because all of the players were already in Taiwan where there isn’t a lot of cases. I know the MLB is in a much tougher situation.

The stadiums are so big that you can let 1,000 fans in and socially distance them but it’s all about the players and the staff feeling protected first, and that’s something that we did really well here in Taiwan.

Kramer is unable to return to America right now because of travel restrictions, but his coverage of the league is worth checking up on. You can follow him on twitter @skramerwrites.