During pandemic, Josh Roenicke and baseball play on in Taiwan

If People assume self-quarantining through the coronavirus pandemic in america has been powerful, go speak to former MLB pitcher Josh Roenicke.

He’s getting into his third season with the Uni-President Lions of Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) — and the pandemic even stretched Roenicke’s love for baseball. He returned to Taiwan on the finish of March, after a short journey residence to Florida for the beginning of his daughter Dylan. However earlier than he might rejoin the Lions at spring coaching, Roenicke was required to finish two weeks in isolation.

Josh Roenicke, 37, has prolonged his taking part in profession in Taiwan, the one place on Earth the place baseball is being performed. fb.com/unilions

“It was a 12-by-20 room, in all probability. Two beds. … There was somewhat stool set out of every room the place they convey a meal thrice a day, and also you open the door and seize it. Then you definately go away your trash on the market twice a day. You could not even go within the hallway,” Roenicke says of his Spartan existence.

“So there I used to be, 15 days with only a window [that opened only] a small crack. I flipped one of many beds up in opposition to the wall so I might do my exercises each different day and throw the baseball into the mattress or bedspread.”

Being a international participant in Taiwan already took some main changes, however including a pandemic has made life border on the weird. All gamers have their temperatures checked a minimum of twice a day — on the ballpark and crew lodges.

Video games are played in empty stadiums, in front of mannequins. Some especially zealous fans are reportedly spending $5,500 Taiwan dollars (about $185 US) to affix photos of their faces to cardboard placards in the stands, creating silhouettes in camera shots behind both batter’s boxes and down the foul lines. Coupled with eerie silence from empty stands, the setting is both serene and surreal.

“It’s very quiet,” Roenicke says. “You hear everything. You hear chatter from the other team. You hear your own teammates dropping F-bombs when they mess up. You hear coaches talking from the dugout.”

The early measures taken by Taiwan’s government helped the island country of 23 million largely keep the virus’ damage to a minimum. Located a mere 110 miles from the coast of mainland China, Taiwan’s number of coronavirus cases is very low, with just 429 reported cases and six deaths as of April 29, according to the World Health Organization.

Taiwan is enjoying the benefits of that labor and vigilance. The Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) begins play on Could 5. However when it opened its season on April 12, Taiwan’s league was the one skilled baseball on the earth being performed.

A chance for Taiwan?

With nearly the remainder of the sports activities world shut down, the CPBL has been the figurative “solely recreation on the town.” Its distinctive place shined a highlight on the five-team league (4 groups plus one minor league crew). And the groups are desperate to showcase themselves.

“General, taking part in behind closed doorways positively takes a giant toll on the membership and isn’t sustainable, as we lose large revenues that may have come from ticketing, sponsorships and merchandising,” says Chris Tsai, basic supervisor of the Fubon Guardians.

“Nonetheless, within the quick run, it isn’t with out alternatives. Being the primary and solely skilled baseball league that has opened the season, we have now attracted viewers around the globe to tune in to our video games,” Tsai says.

The league, which launched in 1990, has seen its ups and downs. Nonetheless, the nation has lengthy custom of valuing baseball, as its Little League World Sequence success (.910 all-time successful proportion) attests. It stays, like Japan’s Nippon Skilled Baseball (NPB) league and South Korea’s KBO, viable choices for ex-major leaguers to both lengthen their taking part in careers or to supply a potential path again to MLB. Present main leaguers Miles Mikolas, Eric Thames and Josh Lindblom are examples of gamers who’ve used these leagues to jump-start their careers.

And whereas Japan and South Korea have robust participant pipelines to MLB, Roenicke thinks Taiwan has some actual expertise as effectively.

“There are some actually good hitters on this league and in each approach — hand-eye coordination, recognizing pitches, their swings, their energy — I might say plenty of hitters right here might play in AAA,” Roenicke says.

“However virtually each single [foreign signee] here’s a pitcher, to convey over higher arms from america or Latin America.”

Chi-Feng Chen was the primary Taiwanese participant in MLB when he performed briefly the Dodgers within the early 2000s. Nonetheless, it was former Yankees star pitcher Chien-Ming Wang who achieved stardom in each the Bronx and at residence and actually put Taiwan on the most important league map.

There are a handful of Taiwanese gamers within the majors proper now, together with infielder Yu Chang of the Cleveland Indians and pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, who has received 59 huge league video games and was on the Seattle Mariners’ roster getting into spring coaching in February.

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Former main leaguer Rob Ducey performed 13 seasons on six groups and at present serves because the hitting coach for the Fubon Guardians. Ducey is happy in regards to the alternative the CPBL has to fill the worldwide void left by MLB’s shutdown.

“I feel for the notice of Taiwan and this league — we have now a possibility to point out the American and Canadian folks [and fans around the world] what we’re all about,” Ducey says.

For Roenicke, baseball is in his blood. Members of his household embody father Gary, who received a World Sequence with the 1983 Baltimore Orioles. His uncle Ron is the Boston Red Sox manager, and Josh’s brother in-law is Colorado Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond.

“I know he’s liked it there. He’s pitched really well. But it’s rough on family life,” Ron Roenicke says. “It’s so far away and trying to get his wife and kids over there is probably his biggest struggle. But he wants to keep playing.”

Josh Roenicke, 37, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2013, when he went 3-1 with the Minnesota Twins.

“[I bounced around with] four different teams in the big leagues in six years,” he says. “I was never like one of their ‘guys,’ which can be hard sometimes to fit in and become someone they really want to keep around.”

Taiwanese fans are paying 5,000 NT ($185 US) to have their faces affixed to placards at the Taiwanese league ballparks. Courtesy Josh Roenicke

When the MLB job line stopped ringing, Roenicke spent some time in a pro league in Mexico before catching on in Taiwan. He says he wishes his time in the majors lasted just a bit longer, but now he’s happy he’s still in the game.

“Someone’s paying me to play the game that I’ve been playing since I was 5 years old,” Roenicke says. “We’re super fortunate, especially with what’s going on right now [in the U.S.]. I’ve been thinking about that a lot [here in Taiwan], and to keep getting paid to play this game is in itself amazing.”

Despite some missed time last season due to an abdominal strain, Roenicke has compiled an 17-16 record and a ERA of 3.31 in his two seasons with the Lions.

Roenicke is part of a Lions staff that includes fellow ex-major league hurlers Donn Roach and Ryan Feierabend. Esmil Rogers, formerly of the Yankees, pitches for Taichung City’s ChinaTrust Brothers. Justin Nicolino, who pitched three years for the Miami Marlins, is playing for the Rakuten Monkeys in Taoyuan City.

“It is definitely a rare opportunity for the world to learn more about Taiwanese baseball,” Tsai says. “We are happy to be able to bring joy to sports fans and offer a sense of hope and encouragement during this tough time.”

Roenicke originally left his Florida home to join the Lions in Taiwan on Jan. 29. Widespread news of the virus was just starting to hit the U.S. Despite his rising concerns, Roenicke says when he landed in Taiwan, life was fairly normal.

“At that point, we weren’t too sure what it was,” he says. “I got [to Taiwan] and it was not relevant at all. Then it got worse and worse in other countries, and the U.S. and just kept skyrocketing. Yet, Taiwan still wasn’t really affected by it. So [being in] Taiwan was definitely safe, but it was scary to think about family and friends back home.”

Taiwan had learned hard lessons from the SARS outbreak in 2003, during which 150,000 people were quarantined and 181 people died. According to a report in the Journal of American Medical Association, Taiwan instituted a list of 124 measures to guard its citizenry through the present pandemic, together with a strict quarantine and banning journey from China very early. They began inspecting flights from Wuhan, China — the place circumstances of COVID-19 first appeared — as early as Dec. 31.

Likewise, Taiwan’s baseball league took measures to guard its personnel and gamers.

“In our efforts to stop the unfold of COVID-19, we took precautions early on and enforced many rules and practices for our crew, resembling day by day physique temperature checks, canceling buffet-style catering, setting hand-sanitizing and hand-washing pointers, following shelter-in-place orders, prohibiting shut contact with followers, and declining all public occasion invites,” Tsai says.

This additionally included the elimination of some time-honored baseball traditions.

“Gamers had been informed, ‘Be cautious along with your palms and touching. No spitting, no sunflower seeds,'” Roenicke says. “They banned these as a result of they do not need folks spitting, , saliva being on the bottom. No dipping [tobacco].”

In mid-March, when Roenicke flew residence to Florida, the virus was starting to unfold quickly within the U.S. His crew was not thrilled by the journey, however it was assured in his contract. He missed his third daughter’s beginning whereas taking part in in Mexico and wasn’t going to let it occur once more.

“I wished to get there earlier than issues actually took a flip for the more severe [in the U.S.],” Roenicke says. “So I received residence with loads of time. I used to be there for about eight or 9 days earlier than the newborn got here, and it was plenty of downtime within the quarantine.”

When Roenicke stated he was going again to Taiwan, not everybody in his household understood. He even questioned his personal choice.

“Once I was leaving, I do know lots of people had been apprehensive,” Roenicke says. “I used to be like, I type of must go, however at the back of my thoughts I used to be pondering the identical as them — [Taiwan] is as near Wuhan as something.”

Roenicke arrived in Taiwan to renew spring coaching, and by then the nation had upped its COVID-19 enforcement insurance policies and the crew informed him he must be in a strictly monitored two-week quarantine.

“At first they informed me I might keep in my residence,” he says. “Good. All my stuff was there. It is a two-bedroom residence that will not be so unhealthy and I will have my teammates, I can go on the balcony. An hour later they stated, ‘By no means thoughts, there is a particular quarantine resort in Kaohsiung. It is an hour south of the place we’re and you will simply keep there now.'”

After two weeks throwing in opposition to a mattress, Roenicke knew precisely what he wished.

“The primary place I went to — in fact I walked to Starbucks,” Roenicke says. “Actually, simply to stroll outdoors felt somewhat bizarre as a result of I had not walked additional than 5 ft in 15 days.”

Unable to get his common spring work in throughout quarantine, Roenicke was given extra time to coach earlier than his first begin of the season. He is trying ahead to taking the mound and beginning a recreation for the Lions quickly. That is when “regular” units in for a ballplayer.

“[It’s great] whenever you hear these noises that folks admire — the crack of the bat, the glove popping, the sound of picket bats hitting balls,” Roenicke says.

And for his uncle Ron, Taiwan and the next opening of the KBO supply a glimpse into what MLB is perhaps dealing with or appear like. However obstacles and security issues stay.

“I used to be actually completely satisfied to see [the leagues open]. However I imply, it is not like I am sitting right here saying, ‘They’re opening up there, why cannot we?’ As a result of I do know we nonetheless have a methods to go,” Ron says.

“We anticipate it is going to take a while to get again to the nice previous days,” Tsai says. “Even when the video games are open to the general public, it would include many restrictions and pointers to comply with, resembling requiring all to put on face masks, holding a sure social distance within the stands, checking physique temperatures, and gathering private data on the gates. Till a vaccine or a remedy has been developed, it’s inevitable that we should do our greatest to stop the resurgence of COVID-19 ourselves.”

The lockdown has given Josh a larger sense of function within the recreation he was raised to play. In the meanwhile, his household, in addition to legions of followers 8,500 miles away, are unable to play, watch or cheer for baseball.

“It was so harmful for a time [in the U.S], I do not know if folks had been involved that baseball’s not happening,” Roenicke says. “It was extra about being protected, particularly for the aged. However hopefully seeing baseball being performed out right here [in Taiwan] can convey somewhat hope and take somewhat anxiousness away from folks and produce that pleasure again.”

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