Sports of all types have been canceled around the world due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But not in Taiwan.
Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium echoed with the thwack of bats hitting balls on Thursday, as the Rakuten Monkeys clobbered the Uni Lions 15 to 3.
Taiwan is still playing ball.
“That is because we did a pretty good job on the pandemic prevention,” said Richard Wang, a Taiwanese broadcaster who provided live English-language commentary broadcast worldwide.
The numbers suggest he’s right.
As of Friday, Taiwan, with its population of around 24 million people, had detected only 395 cases of coronavirus and just six deaths.
On Tuesday, it also reached an important milestone. No new cases were reported that day, for the first time since March 9. Grand Hotel Taipei celebrated the achievement by spelling out the word “zero” in lights on the façade of the building.
Taiwan started moving to control the virus even before the first case was reported on the island on January 24.
Taiwanese officials began boarding and inspecting passengers for fever and pneumonia symptoms on flights from Wuhan, the original epicenter of the virus in China.
Within three weeks, more than 120 action items had been put in place by the island’s Central Epidemic Command Center, according to a list published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Taiwan’s relative success battling the virus has allowed professional sports to be played, albeit with some adaptations. Human audiences aren’t allowed in the stadium for Thursday’s match-up. Instead, workers erected cardboard cut-outs and even mannequins in the stands.
“We obviously miss the audience,” Wang told CNN by videophone near the dugout before the game.
Baseball games in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea are usually incredibly noisy as cheerleaders dance to booming music and lead the crowds in singalongs.
In the age of coronavirus, it’s much more quiet. “But we still have the music on,” Wang said. They also have robot drummers.
Overlooking the field were four metal robots, complete with glowing eyes and swiveling heads. Armed with drum sticks, they banged snare drums throughout the game.
“The club got these robot figures that play the drums during the games,” Wang said. “We never saw that before. It’s fun!”
Another thing Taiwan has never done before is broadcast games for free to the world — in English.
“The only #LIVE Pro-baseball game on EARTH,” announced Eleven Sports Taiwan in a tweet before Thursday’s game, which was streamed live on the platform.
“We hope we can cheer up all the people who might be under the impact of coronavirus,” said Simone Kang, general manager of Eleven Sports Taiwan.
“Don’t feel sad … just watch Taiwan professional baseball.”
Eleven Sports Taiwan said they counted close to a million views during two games live-streamed in English this week.
Among those celebrating the start of Taiwan’s professional baseball season was Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
She posted a photo on Facebook of herself watching a league game with her cat.
“I really welcome everybody to enjoy our games especially when there’s no game in the States, no game in Japan, no game in Korea, no game anywhere!” said Wang.
“This is the only live sport you can have right now.”