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Hands Across the Infield

Teens From Taiwan, Mexico, Irvine Score a Diplomacy Hit

July 07, 2002|DAVID HALDANE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three of four high school baseball teams from Irvine were beaten at their own game by players from Taiwan and Mexico over the Independence Day weekend.

But winning isn't what it's all about at the Irvine International Invitational Baseball Tournament, concluding today at Windrow Community Park.

"It's amazing," said Stephen Paliska, an Irvine Chamber of Commerce member who helped organize the six-day event.

"Baseball is a common language."

The tournament--pitting teams from four local high schools against comparable teams from Irvine's sister cities of Hermosillo, Mexico, and Taoyuan, Taiwan--was the brainchild of the City Council. "The whole community has really embraced these kids," Paliska said.

"It's a cultural exchange."

Baseball wasn't the only culture being exchanged, however.

Among other things, team members shared meals, had a pool party and barbecue, watched fireworks, visited Wild Rivers Waterpark and participated in the city's annual Fourth of July parade.

"Was it held on our behalf?" asked an incredulous Hsui-Chuan Tseng, 17, who plays left field for the Taiwanese team.

The local teams were the regular squads from the Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools, while Hermosillo fielded its City League All Stars, and Taiwan sent a team from the National Taoyuan Senior Vocational, Agricultural and Industrial School.

One of the best-attended events on Saturday, when University High School lost 11-1 to Taiwan, was an impromptu demonstration of cheerleading skills by the Woodbridge High School cheerleaders for an appreciative Taiwanese team.

"They are very easy to get along with," said Kevin Chen, 17, one of the Taiwanese players.

"Chinese girls are more conservative and introverted."

In an apparently successful effort to impress the American girls, the Taiwanese boys got into the act too, demonstrating several dances and chants--as well as the proper pronunciation of the phrase shuai mou, or "handsome cat."

"These guys rock," said Sabrina Jacobs, 15, when it was all over.

Added fellow cheerleader Abby Altman, 15: "They're very respectful and really fun to hang with. We all want to go to Taiwan."

The visitors had their share of surprises too.

Isidro Morales Ramirez, manager of the Hermosillo team, said he was impressed with the host city.

"It's beautiful," he said.

"The parks, the facilities--it's very different from what we're used to; it's a whole other world."

Chiahao Liu, 18, of Taoyuan said he was struck by the size of the American and Mexican players, compared with himself and the others from Taiwan.

"They seem more mature," he said.

And teammate Chen said the first thing he would remember about America is the abundance of hamburgers.

"In Taiwan I wanted more of them," he said, "but this is too many. I miss Chinese food."

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