Dodgers give Taiwan rave reviews
Overwhelming response from fans makes trip worthwhile
KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan -- They're not exactly printing up the tickets yet, but don't be surprised if the Dodgers' exhibition games on this island nation this weekend someday lead to games here that count in the standings.
"Despite the rainout yesterday, I think it was an unmitigated success," said Jim Small, vice president of MLB Asia. "What it does is allow us to consider playing in-season games and an Opening Day here. We're not there yet in terms of all the details, such as facilities and hotels and such. But I think, by design, this was a dry run for having in-season games here and, yeah, I think we probably can."
Setting aside the 15-hour flight and jet lag, there wouldn't be too much argument from the Dodgers, who issued rave reviews from their time in Taiwan.
"You don't realize how you touch people the way we do, even when they don't know your name, just the uniform," said catcher Lucas May, one of six Dodgers who also made the 2008 goodwill trip to China.
"The people here love baseball and are in awe of the Dodgers. The history of China was interesting, with the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square. But here, the people know their baseball and are so friendly and respectful. They're always smiling and that goes a long way."
The series was originally scheduled for two games, but sold out so quickly that organizers added a third game, only for Saturday's rainout to turn it back into a two-game series. Local promoters reportedly took a huge financial hit because of the rainout.
But they couldn't complain about the cooperation from Manny Ramirez. Skeptics suggest it was the result of a reported $170,000 fee he received for a pair of appearances. Included was one Saturday night at a local batting cage at which he judged a Manny lookalike contest, patiently participated in a 30-minute question-and-answer session with fans and posed for photos, so long that organizers finally ushered him out or he might still be there.
When the mayor of Kaohsiung threw out the first pitch at Sunday's series finale, the catcher was Ramirez.
"I love the food, and the people treat you with respect," Ramirez told the crowd Saturday night. "I'm planning to come back and enjoy myself."
Ramirez wasn't the only Dodger to get paid. All of the players will receive a fee from gate proceeds that will probably be about double the $3,000 each received from the China trip.
Along with the check, they'll bring back valuable memories.
"It was better than I expected, a pleasant surprise," said infielder Jamey Carroll. "I knew there would be a lot of support, but it's been crazy. The autograph session yesterday was fun. It was a madhouse, even though it was pouring rain. I'm happy I came. Definitely worth the experience."
James Loney said he's not surprised that players had a better time in Taiwan than China.
"The people here were excited to see us play. I didn't really hear that from the guys coming back from China," said Loney. "I guess it's not as intense there as it is here. I feel the people here look to us as important to them. The fans are very knowledgeable about the game. They know our team pretty well.
"I'm glad I came, I enjoyed it. A lot of guys didn't want to go after the China trip. I knew Taiwan as a country is a little ahead of China as far as the economy has developed. In China, most people are still trying to become more advanced. Here they have a TGIF and a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. We went to the Nike Store, normal things you would do back home. Most people I encountered knew English. And they were real friendly people."
Joe Torre said he enjoyed the entire trip, and appreciated the ever-present security, especially when he stopped to sign autographs at the team hotel and was nearly swallowed by the surrounding mob.
"The people have been terrific," Torre said. "The cities are very clean. I'm still not going to put a lot of weight on from eating the food, but they couldn't have been more enthusiastic. The security has been great. And it's been necessary, because of the enthusiasm of the people."
After a Saturday night off in Taipei -- in which many players visited the Night Market and tasted some of the more exotic Taiwanese delicacies -- the travel party took a 90-minute bullet train ride south to Kaohsiung and the series finale, played in hot and humid conditions at the 20,000-seat Kaohsiung County Stadium.
After the game, the Dodgers were to fly back to Phoenix, expecting to land around 6 p.m. Sunday night. Players on the trip will be given Monday off, with Tuesday a scheduled off-day for the entire club.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.