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Official Review by Michael Rusignuolo, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Chengcing Lake Baseball stadium is a 20,000 seat facility that opened its doors in 1999. During the many shake-ups in the Chinese Professional Baseball League (mostly due to some devastating gambling scandals), the park has changed franchises a number of times since then. Finally in 2013, the ballpark has come to host the EDA Rhinos (who themselves have new corporate owners in a last-minute pre-season acquisition).
Located in a resort district far from downtown Kaohsiung, the park is a little difficult to get to, and may lack some of the extras American baseball fans might expect. Still, the park is a good place to watch a game in the completely unique experience of Taiwanese baseball.
[For the purpose of this review, all prices are given in approximate US dollars based on the exchange rate at the time of the visit in the summer of 2013. All transactions at the park are in New Taiwan Dollars (NTD).]
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Baseball parks in Taiwan, similar to those in Korea, do not have any restrictions on bringing outside food or beverages into the stadiums. Many people bring their own food and drink with them to the park, and vendors line the street by the bleachers entrance selling food and drink to fans looking for something a little cheaper than stadium prices.
There are a limited number of food vendors by the VIP entrance to the park and by the main infield entrance on the second level, and a surprising number of them sell the good old American hot dog, or variants thereof. The regular concessions stands sell hot dogs (and donuts for some reason), but you should try out the concoctions of either Jimmy's (which has a variety of dogs with various toppings heaped on top, all with an order of fries), or the rice dog stand that serves up a sweet pork sausage that you can get in a rice-bun that is well worth a taste.
Heineken beer has a seeming monopoly at Taiwanese parks, and cans are available at certain vendors in the park. Of course, you have the option of bringing your own choice of drinks, as well. Similar to Japanese ballparks, there are mobile beer vendors with mini-kegs on their back that sell beer in the stands during the game (and tea as well for the non-drinkers).
Chengcing Lake Baseball Stadium is relatively new, and certainly is physically the largest facility in the CPBL. There are several layers of the stadium from the outside, with the lowest being the garages, and then a pedestrian level around the base of the stadium, with some outside merchandise stalls (and even a massage stand), and a walkway above that with the ticket booths and the main entrance to the stadium by home plate. There is an additional level above that for the upper decks, but it is only open when the crowd is large enough to require it.
The park is split into the infield grandstand and the outfield bleachers with open seating. The infield grandstand has a lower level of one seating area, separated into an upper and lower area by a narrow walkway that extends from outfield to outfield around home plate. An upper walkway at the top of the seats also provides access to the interior walkway which mirrors the one outside. It houses the modest concession stands and the restrooms and other facilities. The upper deck is only open when needed, and it is one of the only places in the park with any protection from sun and the rain. The last few rows of the bottom seating area, as well as the modest collection of luxury boxes behind home plate, also get some protection.
Seating is closer and smaller than most Westerners are expecting, but they are in no way uncomfortable. A giant scoreboard out in dead center provides the lineups and umpires and a video screen helping to follow the action. Fans of a certain age will feel nostalgic about 70s ballparks in America when looking at it. The seating area right behind the home dugout is fan-club only, and there are some premium seats at the top of the seating areas by the bases that provide their own desks and power outlets.
Between-inning entertainment is not the usual contests or trivia you might expect, but almost exclusively dance numbers by the cheerleaders, usually with the Rhinos mascot. There is no seventh-inning stretch, but some extended breaks every three innings so the grounds crew can fix up the field. There's no national anthem or exchange of lineups cards, either. The umpires come out and bow to the crowd, and the game gets going. After a home win, there will be an on-field ceremony and interview for the MVP players of the game on a stage constructed right after the game ends. The one or two honored players will usually throw souvenirs to fans after the show is over.
The Chengcing Lake Baseball stadium is a bit out in the reeds. Near the titular artificial lake (built by long-time Taiwanese ruler Chang-Kai Shek as a vacation spot for local and foreign dignitaries), it is a good 35-45 minutes or more from downtown Kaohsiung, with few mass transit options (the closest subway stop is about a 45-minute walk away). There is not much in the immediate area of the ballpark, except for a hospital and the lake itself.
The Chengcing Lake Marine Aquarium is nearby and worth a visit (built out of an old security bunker for Shek), as are the park grounds of the lake itself. There is also a small museum and memorial to war veterans literally across the street from the stadium. For sleeping in the immediate area, it either is low end (the ChengChin Lake Hostel, part of the government buildings next door to the stadium) or high-end (the posh Armani Villa Motel and spa, or the palatial Grand Hotel).
The high-end hotels have high-end restaurants, there are small food service trucks in the lake park, and there is a small mall with some food shops a short walk away, but no real place to grab a quick drink after the game. Those willing to get back to downtown Kaohsiung will find a wide range of hotels, restaurants, and bars that will make the effort of getting to and from the stadium well worth it.
For Westerners not familiar with Asian baseball customs, watching a game will come as quite a shock. First off, there is a breakout of territory in the stadium for "home" and "away," centered around the dugouts of the corresponding teams. The home fans center from home plate to the outfield on the home side (first base), and the visiting fans sit from home plate to the outfield on the visiting side (third base). On top of the dugout is a "stage" area where the cheerleading (in its literal form) happens. One or two MCs lead the cheering, along with the mascots and the cheerleaders. The visiting fans also get their own cheer section above the visiting dugout if their team MC and/or mascot make the trip.
Cheering is very much different from the American baseball standard. The team at bat is constantly singing songs to cheer on the batter at the plate. These are from standards that every fan knows, and is usually accompanied by banging plastic noise-makers, sounding horns, or choreographed hand gestures. The singing is also orchestrated by a team band, with a drum and usually some horns. Waving giant flags often accentuates the cheering. If a batter makes an out, or especially if a defensive player makes an exceptionally good play, the fans of the defensive team will counter-sing about the achievement.
With serious gambling scandals as recently as 2008, the popularity of baseball took a big hit in Taiwan, which had the second-largest league in Asia before the scandals ravaged the league and forced over half the teams to close up shop. But 2013 has seen a resurgence in popularity for the remaining teams in the Chinese Professional League, thanks to the first-half stint of former MLB-star Manny Ramirez with the Rhinos and the Taiwanese national team's surprising performance in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
The fan base makes a good showing (even given the distance of the park from the downtown area) and former MLB star Manny Ramirez was the focus of their love. Every pitch in his at-bats was treated with great fanfare, above and beyond the fanfare for the regular players. The "Manny We Love You" chant pretty much sums the feelings up.
Unless you're staying in the lake area, it is a bit of effort to get to and from the park, which is a considerable distance from downtown Kaohsiung. You can take the 60 bus from downtown ($1), but it takes about an hour to get to the stadium, and the buses stop running at about 10 PM. The closest subway station on Fongshan, which is right down the street from regional rail station Fenshan, but it is much too far for the average person to walk from. You can get the 70 bus to the park from both stations, but even that can run about an hour as well.
A cab can be convenient, and will only set you back about $7, one-way. After the game, cabbies congregate outside the park, so catching one should be easy. For the more frugal, the Chinese Professional Baseball League runs free buses after the game to downtown locations, so getting home is a lot easier than getting to the game.
As with everywhere in Taiwan, free scooter parking is available wherever you can fit your bike on the street. There is a parking lot located at the base of the stadium in the unlikely event you're driving a car. The stadium is just off the western spur of highway 183 (Dapi Road).
The outfield bleachers have their own entrances and facilities, and are usually open to fans. They are closed off from the infield grandstand until the end of the game, when the gates are open to assist fans in leaving the stadium. The second deck of the stadium also has its own entrances and facilities, but they are closed off unless the crowd is large enough to require selling the seats.
A note for Westerners: although there are Western-style toilets at most restrooms, if you don't know how to use a squat toilet, make sure to either learn how before you visit or make sure you line up for a Western toilet. You do not want to learn squat toilet usage by trial and error.
For those fluent in Chinese, you can buy tickets at least a day before the game at the kiosks in any of the 7-11 stores that appear every two blocks or so in Taiwan. This is true for all the CPBL games in Taiwan.
For an American watching a professional baseball game in Taiwan, you have to completely reset your cost expectations. The best seats in the house cost a little under $10 American (a little over $10 on the weekend), with half-priced tickets for students, the elderly, and the disabled for about $6 ($6.50 on the weekends), and open-seating bleachers at about $5 (when open due to crowd necessity). Food selections run from about $1-$3, non-alcoholic drinks run about $1, and the beer is about $1.50-$2.
While the level of play and facilities may not quite by up the MLB standards, the experience alone is worth at least double the price of admission. You can go all-in for transport, food, and a great seat for about $17.
The Taiwanese aren't big on the extras that Americans have come to expect in ballparks. There are no programs, and the park isn't essentially a big mall with other things to do than actually watch the ballgame. Fans in Taiwan come to watch a game when they come to the game, so there are no kids areas, or extensive shopping options, or the like.
There are several stands selling team merchandise at the main infield entrance to the park, and the visitors have their own area on their side of the park on the third base side. The selection is modest by US standards (you can't get a Rhinos beer opener or a Rhinos pacifier, for example), but there is enough at cheap prices to send anyone home with a souvenir.
There is a Kaohsiung Baseball Exhibition Hall of Fame in the park, but it was closed during this visit, and it is unclear if it is regularly open to the public. There is a long timeline devoted to Taiwanese baseball in the hallway wall inside the park next to the closed entrance to the Hall, however, as well as various posters celebrating current players and team achievements.
As with all the parks in Taiwan, free WIFI is available.
It is a little out of the way and not quite state-of-the-art, but Chengcing Lake Baseball Field provides a solid baseball experience among an excellent fan base that makes watching a game a joy.
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32 Dabei Rd
Niaosong Township, Taiwan 833
140 Wen-Chien Road
Niao Sung Township, Taiwan 833
886 7 371 7181
Luodong Township, Taiwan 265