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Official Review by Michael Rusignuolo, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Originally built in 1931, Tainan Municipal Baseball Stadium is one of the oldest parks still active in Taiwan. It has been through two major refurbishments in the 1970s and 1990s to keep it relatively modern, and now seats 11,000. Since 1990, it has been home to the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions, one of the oldest franchises in Taiwan. The Lions have one of the largest fan bases that have largely weathered the gambling scandals that decimated the Chinese Professional Baseball League.
While it may lack a lot of the luxuries that Americans have come to expect in their ballparks, Tainan Municipal Stadium is a unique place to watch baseball, and the experience of a game at the park and in the surrounding historic city more than makes up for any shortcomings.
[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".
First, the good news: Baseball parks in Taiwan do not have any restriction on bringing outside food or beverages into the stadiums.
And that's crucial, because the food and drink concession options in the park are extremely limited by American standards. There are one or two stands selling cheap, tasty pork sausages on a stick, a small food court behind home plate, and that's about it. The food court has stands selling convenience-store fare (not unsurprising since the parent company owns 7-11), personal pizzas, and chicken box-lunch combo specials. It's all cheap and not at all bad, but the options are lacking.
Canned beer is available in the convenience store refrigerators at one end of the room, and it is the only alcoholic beverage I saw for sale in the park. But you can, of course, bring in your own choice for suds.
Well, that's not quite all for food. Scantily clad women come through the stands to sell ice cream sandwiches during the game, as well. Make of it what you will.
There is a big food cafe court right next door to the stadium to pick up grub before the game, and a kettle corn store located down the street from the park seemed to be popular with fans as well.
The outside of the park is a bit weathered, and the inside is similarly worn-down in some areas, but none of that detracts from one of the more interesting ballpark designs this reviewer has seen. The experience is more old Yankee Stadium than the Oakland Coliseum. But frankly, your opinion of the park will turn on whether you find Wrigley Field to be a historical treasure of the MLB or a dump that needs to be torn down and replaced with a "real" park.
The bleachers area is double-decked, with an upper and lower open seating area. That shade can be at a premium for afternoon games in the Taiwan summer, which can be punishing with its heat, and it also provides cover to the not-uncommon rain showers that come with the blisteringly high humidity. The infield grandstand is covered by an overhang to keep off sun and rain that extends almost all the way out to the bleachers area. Parasols and umbrellas are regular sights for those braving the exposed seating areas in the afternoon of the earlier daytime weekend games.
There are pre-game contests on a stage by the home entrance that are sometimes attended by the cheerleading squad. People try games of skill to win food prizes they can take with them into the stadium. Post-game celebrations for wins start with fireworks in the park and extend to the front of the stadium, attended by both the cheerleaders and the mascots, who will pose for victory pictures with fans.
Between-inning entertainment is not the usual contests or trivia that Americans might expect, but instead almost exclusively dance numbers by the cheerleaders, sometimes assisted by the mascots. There is no seventh-inning stretch, but there are 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. If the home team wins, there will be an on-field ceremony and interview for the top players of the game on a stage constructed right after the last out. The one or two honored players will usually throw souvenirs to fans after the show is over.
Seating will be considered on the small side by most Americans, but it is not uncomfortable, just less personal space than you're probably accustomed to. There are a few rows of obstructed view seats, mostly near the uncovered section of the infield grandstand, but those won't get sold unless the crowd is near sell-out. They are likely remnants of the time when the light rigs were located inside the park to accommodate the nearby airport.
Tainan is one of the oldest cities in Taiwan, and it was an important city and regional capital for nearly as long as it was part of China. A brief colonization by the Dutch left a Western imprint on part of the city, and a more recent Japanese occupation before WWII left a closer impression. While those occupations have added some areas of historical interest to the city (not to mention the Japanese origin of the ballpark itself), the true treasures of the city come from its long history as a part of China, and later Taiwan.
The cultural highlights of the Tainan Confucius Temple, Koxinga's Shrine, and Chihkan Towers only scratch the absolute surface of a city with an ancient temple seemingly around every corner.
Several high-end malls and traditional markets are available downtown if shopping is more your thing. Night markets near temples provide cheap post-game eats and drinks. Those looking for something more reminiscent of home can try Willy's Second Base, a Western-style pub a few blocks down from the stadium on Jiankang Road.
Not surprisingly, there are a ton of hotel options available in Tainan, ranging from the budget-traveler's Teacher's Hostel, to the mid-range Cambridge Hotel, up to the five-star Tayih Landis Hotel (which is relatively close to the park and usually has several excellent discount deals available).
For Westerners not familiar with Asian baseball customs, watching a game will come as quite a shock. For one, there is a breakout of territory in the stadium for "home" and "away," centered around the dugouts of the corresponding teams. The home fans congregate 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 (a male and female tiger, in this case) and the cheerleaders (the unfortunately named "Uni-Girls"). 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 one of the teams and the Taiwanese national team's surprising performance in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Taiwanese baseball fans are some of the most fervent in the world and put American fans to shame in some areas. The Lions are one of the oldest franchises in Taiwan, and their fan base reflects that. The home infield section was filled for the game I attended, and the outfield section had a healthy crowd as well. The fans were quite into the singing and cheering, and all of them were there to watch a ballgame, not hit a food court or arcade as some American fans can be prone to do at the mall-like stadiums in America.
You have plenty of options to get to the park. Tainan Municipal Stadium is walkable from the center of Tainan, and even from Tainan Airport, which offers regional flights within and outside of Taiwan. Regular flyovers from the airport sometimes give the park a feeling of old Shea Stadium or of Citi Field. For those who'd rather not walk, most city bus lines stop at the stadium, and cabs are also readily available (about $1-$2 to downtown). Even better, the CPBL offers free buses after games to get you back downtown or the airport. Tainan does not have a subway system. The regional rail line stop is a short bus or cab ride away, and the high-speed rail line that can get you back to Taipei in about two hours is a free, half-hour bus ride from downtown.
As with everywhere in Taiwan, free scooter parking is available wherever you can fit your bike on the street. Municipal parking garages are available nearby on the unlikely chance you are driving to the park. The ballpark is located just off highway 17, on Jiankang Road.
If you're staying in town, do yourself a favor and walk to the park and enjoy everything the amazing city has to offer.
The stadium itself is separated into two completed segregated areas: the infield grandstand and the outfield bleachers. Both have completely separate entrances and facilities, and you cannot cross between the two. The infield grandstand has one seating area rising from a main walkway that extends around the base of the seats. Two smaller aisles cut through the middle and the top of the seats. Westerners might find these seating areas a little cramped.
Here's a big notice for Westerners: nearly all of the toilet facilities have squat toilets. If you don't know what that is, read up before you visit, or take the time to find one of the few Western toilets in the park. You do not want to learn squat toilet usage by trial and error, especially considering the facilities are a little worn and dated in this older park.
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 isn't just for the 7-11-affiliated Lions, but all of the CPBL games in the country.
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. The most expensive food in the park is a four-piece chicken meal with a super fries and two drinks that can feed two people for a little over $7. Most food options run about $1-$3. Beers are about $1.50, non-alcoholic drinks are about $1. You can see a game in the best seat in the house and eat and drink and get some souvenirs for less than parking at some MLB stadiums.
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.
There are not a lot of extras at Tainan Municipal Baseball Stadium. Traditional American programs are not for sale (as is the case across Taiwan), and the merchandise store outside on the third base side has a modest selection of Lions swag for sale. (The fairness to the visiting team extends even here, as there is a small, mobile merchandise stand for the visiting team by the visitor's entrance, as well.) There are some tributes to moments in Lions history in the food court area, and several celebrations of recent milestones and victories around the park. There are no children's areas or other niceties that are common to American baseball fans. But when people come to the park to watch a game in Taiwan, they come to watch a baseball game.
While there's not a lot from a familiar luxury standpoint, just walking through the brightly colored pagoda arches to get to the stadium is just a hint of the experience that you'll be getting from seeing the game at this park.
As with all the parks in Taiwan, free WIFI is available.
Perhaps a little shabby and lacking by comparison to the glittering malls that are pro stadiums in America, Tainan Municipal Stadium offers a novel and interesting place to watch a ballgame played in a completely different way, with fervent fans that provide a great introduction to the Taiwanese version of the game.
Member Review by Ralf on Mar 26, 2015
The ballpark is old and had kind of a run down atmosphere when I visited a CPBL game in april of 2013. The location near the city center of the beautiful old capital of Taiwan (and the high speed railway) makes this a must-see for a ballgame. Sunshine, temples, palm trees...
Since I am not American, food is not a priority for me at a game, the food options in the city itself are first rate like all over Taiwan.
Tianmu stadium is Taipei is a little similar as a ballpark, but nicer and with better crowd action.
321 Jiankang Rd
Tainan City, Taiwan
Tainan City, Taiwan
886 6 221 4647