I miss baseball.
That’s the reason I got up early most mornings last week to watch portions of CPBL baseball games in Taiwan.
But as it happens, New Jersey regulators in this sports betting-pioneering state also let me wager on the games in the four-team league.
Since doing extensive research on a league that is, well, foreign to me didn’t seem to be worth the time investment considering the low sports betting stakes I would play for, instead I decided I’d simply choose a favorite team and go that route.
But would it be the Chinatrust Brothers, the Fubon Guardians, the Rakuten Monkeys, or the Uni-Lions?
Quickly I discovered that the Monkeys were the team with 500 robot mannequins in the stands — social distanced six feet apart. There were hundreds of lifesize cardboard cutouts, too, with the cutouts bearing mockups of hospital-quality masks.
Then there is the cheer squad, and the lovable monkey mascot. And a wacky English-speaking broadcast team of Richard Wang (yes, really) and Wayne McNeil.
The Monkeys would be my team.
Getting started betting on Monkeys games
There is a learning curve. Last Monday was to be my first wager, for instance, but the league had the day off.
Meanwhile, the games typically start at 6:30 am ET, and I have never been much of an early riser. Plus this is not a Yankees-Red Sox four-hour Sunday night snoozefest. These guys tend to wrap things up in a manageable 2½ hours, so if you snooze, you lose (and if you’re on the West Coast …).
Also, I had unwittingly taken up with the league’s defending champs and standardbearers. I’d spent a lifetime rooting for the Mets and against the Yankees, and despising the Notre Dame football program because its financial — and at one point, on-field — dominance makes it about the least “Irish” program out there, based on my family tree.
So could I really root for the “U.S. Steel” of Taiwanese baseball? And equally important, would I be willing to consistently give away 1.5 runs as the price for cheering on such greatness?
Drunk with power on a $5 successful wager, I … well, I hedged and only went for $3 on Wednesday once the spread went up to 2½ runs for the next game against the Guardians. (I could do a moneyline, of course, but those prices never looked appealing to me last week.)
The host Monkeys cruised to a 4-0 lead heading into the 7th, and this was getting even more enjoyable. The Guardians scored two runs in the top of the 7th, but the Monkeys got the required extra run back in the bottom of the inning.
The feisty Guardians — whose pitcher only a week earlier had ignited an extremely rare benches-clearing brawl by hitting a Monkeys batter — fought back with a run in the 8th, however, and of course my Monkeys literally couldn’t “go to bat for me” in the bottom of the 9th holding a 5-3 lead. Oof, a microscopic bad beat.
“Get out the guacamole!”
Win or lose, the experience is amusing. Wang and McNeil sound a bit like a couple of college kids learning on the job, spouting one cliche after another. (Then again, some small-market MLB team crews don’t sound much different.)
A smartly turned double play is thus labeled a “web gem” while the announcers remind “any youngsters out there of the value of always hustling, always giving your all.” There was an inevitable Houston Astros “bang the garbage can” joke. And one run-scoring hit had one of them crying out, “Get out the guacamole!”
In fact, discussion of food permeates each broadcast. Asked at one point how much of the in-game barbecue he had digested during the previous game, Wang confessed to having focused more on the shrimp side of the big plates with abandon, eating about “10 shrimp, and I didn’t even bother to peel them.”
The four cheering gals, meanwhile, wear gloves but not masks — though the male cheer squad captain does have a mask. They do countless routines for, well, basically no sentient beings, and get plenty of air time.
And no, the players who aren’t catchers and umpires don’t have masks. The players offer limited handshakes and fist bumps, but those do occur on an island that has shut its borders and so far mostly escaped the COVID-19 pandemic.
Back to the baseball and betting
The league player generating the most fireworks — which happens after every Monkeys home run — is left-handed slugger Chu Yu-Hsien, who has an absurd 10 home runs in 13 games (many of them helping my bankroll) so far.
I took another shot with the Monkeys -1.5 runs when they resumed play on Friday against Chinatrust Brothers. I missed most of this one.
The Monkeys rallied for five runs in the 9th inning to tie the game at 8-8, possibly opening the door for a walk-off “steal of the century” wager. Alas, the Brothers got two runs in the top of the 12th (and it was around this time that I was informed that in Taiwan, any game tied after 12 innings goes into the books as a tie). With the Brothers ahead 10-8, things seemed dire indeed. I needed a walkoff grand slam, a run followed by a three-run homer, or two runs and then a two-run HR, but none of that seemed likely.
Still, the Monkeys rallied — I mean, it’s in their name and everything — to put runners on 2nd and 3rd with two out. Time for a 2-run single? It looked that way when the batter ripped a liner headed down the third base line. But the third baseman got his glove on it, saw the ball pop up a good six feet in the air, and then completed the catch to end things.
Saturday’s contest brought a seven-run sixth inning for a 15-5 Monkeys lead, but the laugher got less funny when the Brothers got five runs in the 9th inning before falling, 16-11.
(Note: These bullpens have all been terrible. The Monkeys were at +800 before their own five-run rally in the Friday game, and such gambles have paid off at times so far in the CPBL. In fact, fielders are not all that reliable, either, at this modest level of professional baseball.)
Now slightly ahead of the game, I closed out the week with yet another -1.5 runs bet on Sunday, this one at -109. Ex-Yankee Jose De Paula (well, he pitched one game in their MLB pinstripes in 2015) was the Brothers’ starting pitcher — a rare American in this league.
With a Sunday start time of 4:45 a.m. ET, my Monkeys pounded the 32-year-old southpaw for eight runs in five innings en route to an easy 9-3 victory. And after five games, the tiny bankroll is up about 50 percent. Maybe U.S. Steel is a good guy after all.
Will I keep watching — and betting?
The answer to the above question is, not every day. It’s a long 120-game season, after all. My 11-3 Monkeys have 106 more games to play.
But it’s comforting to know that there is a game to be had on most days — and that we apparently are only days away from teams in Taiwan being permitted to have a total of 250 fans, though no more than two per section. It’s a hopeful vibe — however little it may translate to American team sports, in reality.
And compared to my colleague Gary Rotstein’s recent experience of watching and sweating a bet on a soccer match in Belarus, this was more enjoyable.
I love baseball.
Apparently, almost any baseball.
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