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Taichung baseball fans embrace the Brothers as their own

It’s difficult to top the exhilarating adrenaline rush, excitement and tribal bonding that comes from watching a large sporting event with thousands of fans rooting for their team. In Taichung, this experience can only be regularly enjoyed in one place—the Intercontinental Stadium—where fans gather on an almost weekly basis throughout the summer and fall to cheer on the city’s sole professional team—the Taichung Brothers Baseball Club.
Although the club only officially made Taichung its home in 2017, the Brothers are one of Taiwan’s oldest and best-known clubs, founded in 1984 by Taipei’s Brother Hotel as an amateur side before Brother Chairman Hung Teng-Sheng floated the idea of creating the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) in 1989. In 2013, the Brother Elephants was then sold to CTBC Bank and became the Brothers Baseball Club (while retaining its official Elephant mascot). Two years ago, it opted to make the 25,000-capacity Taichung stadium its home field, where it plays the majority of its home games.

As the Brothers headed into the second half of the season in July under the leadership of American Manager Scott Budner, Compass Magazine caught up with two of its popular, non-Taiwanese players—American pitchers Nick Additon and Mitch Lively—to get their impressions of baseball in Taiwan. Although they’d never met before becoming Brothers teammates, both had very similar, overlapping backgrounds in US Major League Baseball (MLB) Triple A and South American winter league teams.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida native Nick, who has spent parts of the past four seasons with the Brothers, has played all over the US for four different MLB teams, most recently the Baltimore Orioles, as well as Mexico and Dominican Republic. Feeling he was maxing out as a Triple A player, he saw a 2016 Brothers invitation as an “amazing opportunity” to play on an Asian big league team. In 2017, he did a stint in Korea’s KBO League for the Busan-based Lotte Giants before returning to the Brothers for spring training in 2018, where he and Mitch formed a great bond that extends to their wives and kids. “We’ve developed a great relationship, not just a baseball relationship but really close friends,” he notes.

For Mitch, home is Susanville in northern California which, he jokes, “sounds as small as it is”. He spent nine years with Triple A teams for the Giants, Rockies and Nationals before getting a 2015 contract to play for the Sapporo-based Nippon-Ham Fighters, where his teammates included LA Angels’ Shohei Ohtani and Taiwan’s Dai-Kang Yang, now with the Tokyo Giants. After a year there, he played two seasons in Mexico before coming to Taiwan in 2018. He’s also played for six years of winter ball in Venezuela.

Asked what stands out to them about Taiwanese baseball, both immediately responded unanimously. “It’s the fans. There is the nonstop cheering, nonstop noise and nonstop positivity,” says Mitch. “I mean, in any other country if I give up a grand slam I’m getting booed or they’re cheering that I’m finally getting pulled out of the game. Here they’re cheering for you because they genuinely love you and know you were working hard. You don’t get that in any other country.” He adds that after the game, fans continue sending positive, encouraging messages and gifts, including coffee and donuts.

“The fans are the biggest thing for sure,” agrees Nick. “Its crazy because in the United States the average fan is about 60. Here, I guarantee you the average fan is probably in their 20s and 30s with as many kids as expected at that age level. And they’re all dancing, they’re all singing. It’s really unbelievable…even late in the game the crowd is so into it with the drums and trumpets. It’s so incredible.” He adds that the constant noise can be a big adjustment for some western players, although both he and Mitch had experienced a similar atmosphere in Latin America and now focused on slowing down and focusing on one pitch at a time.
The warmth and welcome of local fans has also been extended to their families. “Everyone loves our families. They’re always going up to our families and being very kind. You don’t get that in the States,” says Mitch. “My wife can let my [1-year-old] son run down 20 rows and let some old lady hold him and she’ll bring him back.”

“My kids became so much more social because of the culture here,” adds Nick of his three children, ages 6, 3 and 18 months. “In the States, my wife’s a little guarded about letting the kids get out of sight for a second. Here, she just kind of lets them be and they just opened up, they blossomed into social butterflies.”
Regarding unique aspects of the game itself here, Nick feels Taiwanese talent is underrated because of regular comparisons to Japan and Korea’s bigger leagues. Both he and Mitch believe the CPBL is different because it’s only four teams, so talent is not watered down in the league. “We think that these are some of the best hitters in the world, honestly,” he asserts. “The four or five hitters that stay in each team’s line-up are very, very talented and could play in any league in the world.”
“It’s definitely an offensive league which is fun for the fans, although maybe not sometimes for the pitchers. On any given night, maybe nothing will happen for 3-4 innings and then, all of the sudden, bam, bam, bam and it’s five to nothing. It’s very dramatic. It’s a superstar league. I think that’s what makes it so special. Four teams in a league that is a country’s national sport, so each team has superstar-level people. For me, that’s what really stands out.”

Mitch recalls recent games that remained 0-0 for multiple innings before suddenly exploding with nine runs in an inning: “You’re thinking, ‘What just happened?’ That’s very rare; you don’t see that in a lot of leagues,” he says, adding that another factor is pitching against the same batters many times per season. “There are no secrets. There’s no, ‘Oh, he hasn’t seen this pitch yet.’ You have to be able to adapt. I’m 33 and Nick is 31 and you have to be able to learn and to create new sequences and new looks to be successful. You can’t just go with one style of pitching the whole time.”

There are always challenges for foreign players in a new environment. “It’s really hard to come to a place where you don’t know anyone and you don’t know the culture and you’re expected to perform right away…with a test every day,” says Mitch who, like Nick, says he is fully committed to his team and Taiwan. Both men remark on the great interactions with their Taiwanese teammates and concerned, attentive and helpful training staff on and off the field that have overcome any language barriers, noting that they often get taken out for fun on the town and have enjoyed fun with each other’s families. They also love their adopted home city.
“I think Taichung’s unbelievable. I love downtown, I love the lights, I love all the restaurants…the food is unbelievable,” says Mitch, with Kirby completely agreeing. “I love how you can just walk around anywhere down there. My family and I like to go down to Maple Valley at night and just push around the stroller and relax.”
“All of Taiwan is super welcoming but to me Taichung has the best weather, the good food places, nice hotels, nice malls and mountains,” adds Nick. “We love Taichung.”

Editor’s Note:
In July, following this interview, Nick Additon was released by the Brothers due to some injury-related issues. Compass and the Brothers wish him all the best and hope to see him back in a Brother’s uniform once again in the future.

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Written by 何道明 Douglas Habecker

Douglas Habecker is the editor-in-chief of Compass Magazine


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