Whether you're waiting for it or not, the World Baseball Classic is fast approaching. The international shindig kicks off in Tokyo on March 5 and runs through the final at Dodger Stadium on March 23. In an attempt to get you quickly up to speed with what's going on, BLS is running team previews as the event nears.
Pool: A, Tokyo
'06 WBC finish: Defeated China 12-3; dropped its two other games in pool play
First game: Friday, March 6 vs. Korea
Five questions to ask about Chinese Taipei (AKA Taiwan)
No Chien-Ming Wang, eh? Nope. Like in '06, the Yankees ace declined to pitch for the Old Country. Besides, Wang (right, without pom-pons) probably wants to start the MLB season fast after missing the final 3 1/2 months of '08 because of a foot injury. He seems to be off to a solid start in camp. Wang, the third major leaguer from his country (following Chin-Feng Chen of the Dodgers and Chin-Hui Tsao of the Rockies), will have to catch the games on TV like the rest of his countrymen not playing in Tokyo.
Who will be there? Hu won't play, either. Chin Hu, a career .299 hitter in the minors who was the Futures Game MVP in 2007, is trying to make the Dodgers as a backup infielder. Torre apparently liked Hu's defense at short and second, however, because he played in 65 games with the Dodgers last year (hitting .181 with an OPS of .485 ... ouch). Hu, now 25 years old, batted .417 with a couple of stolen bases in the '06 WBC.
No, not Hu! WHO will be there? Right-hander Hung-Wen Chen, a Cubs prospect, was among 11 on the provisional roster also in major league organizations. Taiwan also has players from a club called the Brother Elephants and at least one pitcher — Kai-Wen Cheng — from the pleasant-sounding Culture University. Che-Hsuan Lin, a 21-year-old outfleld prospect with the Red Sox organization, won the Futures Game MVP in '08. He also stole 33 bases in 91 games at Class-A Greenville before departing for the Olympics. Collectively, the Taiwanese hit .265 with a .724 OPS in the '06 WBC. Their problem was pitching (6.84 ERA).
So, what's the difference between "Taiwan" and "Chinese Taipei"? Some of the political distinctions and differences between Taiwan and China are difficult to understand. Taiwan is an island nation with its own government, only those in charge of the Chinese mainland seem to think it's just another state of the People's Republic. From the political tension that resulted, Taiwan agreed to use the phrase "Chinese Taipei" (that's what it says on the caps and jerseys) to describe its sports teams competing internationally. The capital of Taiwan is Taipei and the dominant ethnicity on the island is Han Chinese. So, we're to call them "Chinese Taipei," even if Taiwan hasn't gone anywhere.
So, it's the same Taiwan that dominated the Little League World Series, winning 17 times from 1969-1996? Indeed. Thanks to some rules changes, the Taiwanese actually stopped sending teams to Williamsport for a time, and they no longer dominate the championship game. Taiwan still manages to stand tall internationally on several levels. Tapei 101 is the world's tallest building. The island makes 80 percent of the world's laptops, including the Acer. Then there's everything else stamped "Made in Taiwan." That's when you know it's good.
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Previous WBC previews: Korea (Jan. 9); Venezuela (Jan. 13); Australia (Jan. 21) Mexico (Jan. 27); Netherlands (Jan. 29); South Africa (Feb. 4); China (Feb. 16), Italy (Feb.17) Japan (Feb. 18), Canada (Feb. 20)