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Official Review by Michael Rusignuolo, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The 12,500-seat Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium was completed in 1997, and (at least until the long-delayed Taipei Dome in the capital gets built) it currently hosts the oldest franchise in the Chinese Professional Baseball League, the Brother Elephants, along with their large fan base.
Although the park may lack what Americans have come to expect in a ballpark, its convenient location, intense fans, and solid layout make it an experience that any baseball fan visiting Taipei should consider experiencing.
[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 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 there are tons of little stores and vendors on the way to the park, as well as a large convenience store in the sports building next door to the stadium. You will have more of a selection of food this way, but the savings on the already cheap prices are nominal.
The variety of food choices doesn't match up well against American parks. There are one or two main concession stands that have big iced vats of bottled beverages, snacks, and various boxed lunches of chicken or pork. There are small vendors around the park that offer chicken, pork, and seafood in various incarnations. But the absolute must-try is the Taiwanese blood sausage. It is a pork-blood sausage, on a stick, dipped in a choice of hot sauces, and then dipped again into flavored flakes. It is absolutely delicious.
For the less adventurous, try the duck burrito at the next kiosk. It is exactly what it sounds like.
Heineken beer has a seeming monopoly at Taiwanese parks, and cans and bottles are available at certain vendors in the park. Of course, you have the option of bringing your drink of choice, as well.
Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium is separated into two parts: open-seating outfield bleachers and an infield grandstand. The infield grandstand has two levels, and the second level is accessed by stairway around the walkway that runs from outfield to outfield behind home plate. That walkway leads down into the seating bowl. Both the upper deck and the lower deck are covered, which can be important for earlier afternoon games in the Taiwan summer, as well as for the frequent showers that can come with the super-high humidity. The limited luxury boxes behind home plate are also safe, but the bleacher creatures have to fend for themselves, and are often found with umbrellas for the heat or rain.
Between-inning entertainment is not the usual contests or trivia you might expect, but almost exclusively dance numbers by the cheerleaders. 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.
Seating is closer and smaller than most Westerners may be expecting, but they are in no way uncomfortable. There are some areas with restricted views on the flanks of the outfield, but those seats generally aren't sold unless the crowd requires it.
The Xinzhuang District of New Taipei City isn't quite up to its namesake. It has more of a suburb feel, with some decent shopping, restaurants, and bars around the park, but not nearly the myriad of all that are available in Taipei proper. Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium is part of the much larger Xinzhuang Sports Park, which has a large and architecturally interesting gymnasium next door, as well as walkways and courts for various sports across its large campus. Stages and small restaurants can also be found where there are often live performances. As in most of Taiwan, there are dozens of tiny places to grab some food and drink after the game on the surrounding streets. For food, how can you pass up Powerful Steak House, right down the street from the park?
If you're looking to stay in the area, there are a few hotels within a few blocks of the park, including the surprisingly cheap boutique Hotel Purity, super-swanky Chateau de Chine, the business-oriented Landmark Inn, and the hip Art Motel. But there's no particular need to stay right by the stadium to visit Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium. The Taipei subway can zip you back to the center of the capital in under a half hour, and you can take in the multitude of hotels, restaurants, bars, and cultural options of Taipei.
For Westerners not familiar with Asian baseball customs, watching a game will come as quite a shock. First of all, there is a breakout of territory in the stadium for "home" and "away," centered around the dugouts of the corresponding teams (first and third base, respectively, in this case). The home fans center from home plate to the outfield on the home side, and the visiting fans sit from home plate to the outfield on the visiting side. 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 cheerleaders. The visiting fans also get their own cheer section above the visiting dugout if their team MC and/or mascot and cheerleaders 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 a CPBL team and the Taiwanese national team's surprising performance in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
The Brother Elephants are the oldest team in Taiwan, professional or otherwise, so it is not surprising that they have the biggest fan base as well. The proximity to the capitol probably doesn't hurt, either. Even on days with inclement weather, the faithful show up in droves and cheer with gusto. Since they are near the populous capitol, there is usually a good showing of opposition fans also, since many live in Taipei as well.
In addition to the regular songs and cheers, they have a special chant they use when there are two strikes on an opposing batter: they start saying an extended "See ya" (in English) as the pitch is thrown and follow up with an extended cheer if their jinx pans out.
There are plenty of ways to get there, but the easiest way to get to the park from Taipei is the subway. The orange line will get you from downtown to the stadium in under a half hour and set you back less than $2 round trip. Make sure to take the trains going to Fu Jen University and not the branch line going to Luzhou.
The 299, 639, and 99 buses will also get you there from downtown, but the bus is much slower and costs about the same. A cab will cost you about $5-$6 one-way. 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 next door to the stadium in the unlikely event you're driving a car. The stadium is just off highway 1.
The outfield bleachers are open seating, but have their own entrance at the back of the park and are segregated from the grandstands until the gates are open after the game. Consider that before you save some money on seats.
An important note for Westerners: although there are Western-style toilets in some restrooms, if you don't know how to use a squat toilet, make sure 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, and the facilities in the park have not necessarily aged gracefully.
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-$4, non-alcoholic drinks run about $1, and the beer is about $2. The pork blood sausage is about $1 and the duck burrito is $1.50.
While the level of play and facilities may not quite be up to the MLB standards, the experience alone is worth at least double the price of admission. Given that you can sit right behind the dugout and eat and drink until you're stuffed for less than the price of a bleacher seat at a big-city American ballpark, you just can't go wrong.
There aren't many frills at Taiwanese ballparks, even for things American baseball fans take for granted. There are no programs, for example, and the idea of a play area or bar to do something else besides watch the game is a completely foreign concept. Since Xinzhuang is technically shared by the league, there are no tributes to the home team and modest and temporary merchandise stands are set up on the home and away side during games. The Elephants do take the cake for most interesting team item for sale: the cologne celebrating a hits record by one of their players.
As with all the ballparks in Taiwan, free WIFI is available.
Xinzhuang Stadium is a different experience from an American ballpark, and that's not a bad thing. It may be lacking in some respects to the mall-like American ballparks, but it is a good place to catch a game among rabid fans who can show what the Taiwan baseball experience is really like.
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60 Dŕguān St
New Taipei City, Taiwan 242
+886 2 8991 1278
82 Jhongjheng Road
New Taipei City, Taiwan 242