As Major League Baseball considers how best to start its season, the Chinese Professional Baseball League in Taiwan has successfully been playing games on two levels since April 21.
The CPBL has only four teams at its major league level this season. But there are some lessons to be learned for MLB as it determines what protocols to put in place to protect the health of the players, coaches, and others around the game.
“Starting from the moment we enter the parking lot of the stadium, our temperature is taken,” said Richard Wang, a television and radio broadcaster who this season started calling games in English to satisfy a demand from baseball-starved fans in other countries.
“Upon entering the building of the ballpark, you must sign your own health declaration form while your temperature is being taken again. Anyone who intends to work on the game must register with the league the day before, as all the names will serve as important pandemic-related information. If your name is not on the list, you are not allowed to come into the stadium.”
Wang, 48, attended Wentworth Institute of Technology and lived only a short walk from Fenway Park. He became a fan of the Red Sox during that time and has since been nicknamed “Boston” by his friends.
He believes Taiwan was well positioned to start baseball because of its government’s quick and effective response to the pandemic. Despite its proximity to China, the island nation has had only 429 confirmed cases and six deaths.
Taiwan moved decisively to identify, contact, and isolate people with the virus. Hospitals were also well equipped with protective gear and ventilators.
“Without any doubt, the fact that baseball is now being played in Taiwan reflects the solid achievement on pandemic prevention,” Wang said.
“I have to give credit to the medical personnel for their contribution and sacrifice in protecting us citizens, and I would also applaud citizens complying with the regulations in protecting themselves and others.”
The CPBL’s plan to start the season had to be approved by the government’s experts in medicine and science. The league was told play would be suspended with even one confirmed case among personnel at games.
After a two-week delay, the season started and has been receiving more attention than would usually be the case.
Che-Hsuan Lin, who played nine games for the Red Sox in 2012, has been a CPBL standout since 2015. He is hitting .281 with a .926 OPS in 10 games for the Fubon Guardians.
The league has 14 former major leaguers, 12 of them pitchers. The most notable is lefthander Ariel Miranda, who won 13 games for the Orioles and Mariners from 2016-18.
Taiwan is 14,000 square miles (about the size of New Jersey and Connecticut combined) with a population of roughly 24 million. The longest road trip, by bus, is four hours. The players and coaches also have been quarantined together in dormitories.
MLB has a much greater logistical challenge. Wang believes MLB needs a strict plan to protect anybody entering the ballpark and would benefit from setting up four or five divisions to cut down on travel and lessen exposure.
CPBL players are required to wear masks on all trips and eating on the buses is prohibited. The players do not wear masks during games, but everyone else at the ballpark does, including many of the umpires.
The clubhouses are closed to the media and interviews take place at a distance. The player or manager being interviewed uses a microphone so everyone can hear.
“Many of us carry our own alcohol spray to sanitize the desk, chair, window in front, and our equipment,” Wang said.
Once the game starts, even without fans, there’s a sense of normalcy.
“Both managers and players have said that the crowd-free games actually helped for their concentration on the game,” Wang said. “One manager said, ‘We always tell the players when the game is on the line, you need to focus as if there are no fans in the stands. And there you go, we have no fans now.’ ”
As a broadcaster, Wang feels the same way.
“Most of the time when we cover the sports, especially for print media, we probably pay 90-95 percent of the attention to whatever happens on the field,” he said.
“Unless you work with broadcasting media you don’t have that much opportunity to cover the stories in the stands.”
In Taiwan, Japan, and Korea, fans are more active than in the United States. There are songs and coordinated cheering throughout the game. Teams in Taiwan have tried to replicate that with recorded music.
One of the pitching coaches in the league, former Yankees righthander Chien-Ming Wang, said Taiwan has succeeded because the players and coaches worked together for the benefit of the league.
“Everyone has been cautious to avoid unnecessary gatherings, to limit the contact,” he said. “We were told not to go to bars, karaoke, or restaurants. Everyone cooperates because you don’t want to be the one who affects the whole league.
“It feels good to be able to play games now. The routine is to put on masks when getting on to buses to the ballpark. If anyone has a fever, he will need to go back. Masks are worn as often as possible.”
As a former major leaguer, Wang isn’t sure MLB can do the same.
“In the US, every player lives on his own. The contacts are more complicated. Chances of getting infected are higher,” he said.
Whether MLB personnel can come together effectively remains to be seen. With regulations differing from state to state, any travel will be a challenge, too.
But Taiwan has made it work, and the 10-team Korean Baseball Organization is opening its season on Tuesday. There is hope for baseball.
Sox prospect really nuked one
Former Red Sox minor league manager Dick Berardino called the other day with a fun story.
He was managing Single A Lynchburg when the movie “Bull Durham” came out in 1988. Lynchburg was at Durham the day the film premiered and arrangements were made for both teams to see it.
While a student at North Carolina, Lynchburg catcher Paul Devlin answered a casting call for extras with baseball experience and had a small role in the film.
Remember the scene when Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) tells the hitter a curveball is coming because Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) keeps shaking off the fastball? Devlin is the hitter who crushes a home run to right field.
When the Lynchburg players saw the movie, Devlin was excited to see his scene made the final edit. So Berardino played a hunch and started him in the next game.
“Paul was a backup, but it seemed like a good idea,” Berardino said. “I just had a sense about it.”
Sure enough, Devlin belted a grand slam to right field off a Durham pitcher. Ron Shelton, the former minor leaguer who wrote and directed the film, was in the stands.
It was one of four home runs Devlin hit in a two-year career, certainly the most memorable. Devlin later became a sports and news reporter and spent part of his career with NESN and MLB.com.
The few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ Players from other teams were quick to condemn the Astros in January when Major League Baseball revealed the details of their sign-stealing scheme in 2017.
Even Mike Trout, who usually refrains from any sort of controversy, came down on them.
Did you notice the reaction to MLB’s report on the Red Sox? Not a peep across social media or traditional media.
Obviously what the Sox may have done was minor compared with the Astros. But it also speaks to what players feel crosses the line and what doesn’t — and what their own teams have been doing.
▪ MLB is moving ahead with holding the amateur draft June 10, although no announcement has been made. Negotiations with the Players Association are continuing as to the format, but the expectation is for the draft to last no more than 10 rounds with a bonus limit on what will be a huge pool of undrafted free agents.
The Red Sox won’t have a second-round pick, their punishment for the rules violation in 2018. But the Sox should be an attractive option for free agents.
With bonus payments capped, teams will be leaning on other factors to lure players. The biggest will be opportunity, and the Sox have that, particularly for pitchers.
Globe colleague Alex Speier ranked 30 Sox prospects for Baseball America before the season. Of the 16 pitchers in the group, Noah Song is serving his Navy commitment, Darwinzon Hernandez is already in the majors, and several others have serious question marks.
For a college pitcher in particular, the Sox represent a chance to make a quick impact and move up.
The lure of Fenway Park will help, as will good facilities in Fort Myers, Fla., and elsewhere. The Sox also could use Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, and Jason Varitek as recruiters.
▪ Brock Holt, now a Milwaukee Brewer, still has his home in the Boston area and is riding out the pandemic there. He remains an ardent supporter of The Jimmy Fund, not that you would have expected otherwise.
On Friday, Brock and his wife, Lakyn, arranged for lunch from Aceituna Grill in Cambridge to be delivered to staff members.
Business is business and Holt ended up with Milwaukee once he became a free agent. But what he and Lakyn have done for people in and around Boston over the years, and are still doing, won’t be forgotten.
▪ Jerry Remy got some good news this past week. He was able to resume his usual lung cancer treatments Friday after the hospital was declared safe for people in his condition. Remy had missed two of his sessions.
Remy said in March that his work this season could be limited to home games because of the pandemic.
▪ Manny Ramirez, who turns 48 on May 30, is hoping to play in Taiwan this season. He does not yet have an offer, however, and would have to be quarantined for 14 days upon arriving in Taiwan.
Ramirez played 49 games for the EDA Rhinos in 2013 and hit .352 with a .977 OPS.
He has not played in the major leagues since 2011, when he retired rather than face a second suspension from Major League Baseball following a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs.
Ramirez had a rancorous departure from the Red Sox in 2008, but in recent years he has been welcomed back to Fenway Park for various events.
Eck concerned for pitchers
Dennis Eckersley was with the Red Sox in 1981 when a strike by the players halted the season on June 12. It didn’t start again until Aug. 10. So to some degree, he can relate to what players are going through now.
“For me, the biggest question will be the pitchers,” Eckersley said. “You really don’t know how much effort you want to put in. The relievers will have it a heck of a lot easier than the starters.”
In ’81, players could easily find workout partners and pitchers were able to throw off a mound at a nearby high school or college. But with the pandemic, social distancing guidelines limit the options.
“Unless you have somebody in your house who can catch, you have to throw into a net,” Eckersley said. “That’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing. You’ll be able to tell who was able to get their work in and who didn’t.”
Eckersley said his biggest problem was not knowing when the strike would end as negotiations took various twists and turns.
“As a pitcher, you want a day when you’re scheduled to pitch and you can prepare yourself,” he said. “In spring training, you know when you have to be ready. The sooner MLB can say, ‘This is when the season will start,’ the better off these guys will be.”
Eckersley, who was a starter at that stage of his career, went three innings on Aug. 10 and went up to six on Aug. 15. He had a 4.13 ERA in 11 starts after the strike.
“You figure it out,” he said. “These guys now, they stay in good shape. It’ll be interesting to see how teams handle it.”
Orioles outfielder Trey Mancini revealed last week that he was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer thanks to a blood test he was given as part of his annual physical before spring training. He does not expect to play this season but hopes to be ready for spring training in 2021. As somebody whose job entails checking in on other teams from time to time, Mancini is a welcome sight in the Orioles’ clubhouse. He’s always happy to chat about the game and has a genuine appreciation for it. Here’s hoping he’s back on the field next season … The Hall of Fame had little choice but to cancel its induction ceremony in July, as it did Wednesday. Public safety was obviously paramount, but 38 Hall of Famers are 70 or older and in a high-risk group for COVID-19 … Righthanded reliever Emmanuel Clase, who was the key player the Indians received from the Rangers for Corey Kluber, tested positive for a steroid and was suspended for 80 games. Clase faced the Red Sox on Sept. 24 in Arlington and was throwing 96 miles per hour with command … Happy 35th birthday to Nate Spears, who played for the Red Sox from 2011-12, going 0 for 8 in seven games with four strikeouts. But that wasn’t the end of his story. Spears played pro ball from 2003-14 with the Red Sox and four other organizations, then rejoined the Sox as a minor league coach in 2016. Terry Francona predicted as much as in 2011, saying Spears had a lot of knowledge about the game and could have a long career as a coach if he wanted. Don’t be surprised if he ends up on a major league staff someday or maybe even managing. Ryan Dempster is 43. He played 16 years in the majors and won a ring with the Red Sox in 2013. His 171⅓ innings were the third-most for that team, behind Jon Lester and John Lackey. After Game 6 of the World Series, I’ll never forget being in the press box around 3 a.m. finishing up some work and looking down on the field and seeing Dempster throwing batting practice to some of his friends, a can of beer at his side and the biggest smile on his face.