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Rebuilding Taiwan Baseball Team Tries to Sharpen Skills

June 30, 1989|JIM LINDGREN

SAN DIEGO — The sun was shining on the practice field at Point Loma Nazarene College Thursday afternoon as the Taiwan National baseball team prepared to practice. But a cool onshore breeze made the afternoon not only quite comfortable, but downright enjoyable.

Lee Lai-Fa thought so anyway. Lee is the manager of the Taiwanese team that will play in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

The Taiwanese are in San Diego this week preparing for a five-game series against the U.S. National team by playing exhibition games against the San Diego Collegiate Baseball League All-Stars. The first game was Thursday night. They will play again Sunday at noon at the University of San Diego.

"Taiwan is many hot," said Lee. "San Diego is very good."

Lee, who turned 34 Wednesday, has been a coach with the Taiwan team since the 1984 Olympics and manager for the past year.

He was a pretty good catcher during his playing days and the Cincinnati Reds wanted to sign him out of high school, but Taiwan's mandatory military service kept him from playing in the U.S.

He did, however, play in Japan for four seasons. Through an interpreter, he said he enjoyed it, but the language differences were hard to deal with.

Getting ready for Thursday's game, his team seemed much like their American opponents.

They warm up, albeit in a semicircle around the rim of the outfield grass instead of down the foul lines, take infield, throw in the bullpens and have batting practice.

The only differences were that the coaches, four of the them, all had whistles and stop watches.

They did not blow the whistles, nor did they use the stopwatches. But they all had them.

Pitcher Lin Chao Huang, 19, is one of the youngest players on the team. Lin, who said he has been the U.S. before, said that his favorite American players were Dwight Gooden and Orel Hershiser, but that his favorite thing about America were the girls.

Most of the players have been to the U.S. earlier in their careers, for either the Little League or Senior League World Series.

And they have done quite well. Of the past 22 Little League World Series titles, 18 belong to Taiwan, including the past five by a combined score of 56-5.

They also had been quite competitive in the higher levels of international play until a few years ago. In the '84 Olympics, Taiwan won the bronze medal. But in the '88 Seoul Games, Taiwan went 1-3.

After Seoul, many of the coaches and players were replaced. The program is in a rebuilding phase. And Lee says it may take some time before this team is ready for Olympic-level of play.

But Thursday night against the San Diego Collegiate Baseball League All-Stars at San Diego State, Taiwan struggled throughout but managed to rally for a 10-9 victory. Chang Cheng-Hsien had the key hit, a three-run double in the seventh to give Taiwan the lead for good.

Taiwan, normally known for its strong fundamentals and defense, committed five errors to allow four unearned runs.

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