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Professional baseball in Taiwan has begun in empty stadiums

Former Seattle Mariners pitcher Ariel Miranda delivers for the Chinatrust Brothers against the Uni President Lions in Taiwan on April 12.(Steven Lee / AFP via Getty Images)

Ariel Miranda threw the first pitch in the first professional baseball game that mattered this year.

He also gave up the first home run — a fastball caught too much of the plate in the second inning — but settled down after the mistake. The former Seattle Mariners left-hander, starting for the Chinese Professional Baseball League’s Chinatrust Brothers in Taiwan, allowed just the one run across five innings Sunday and said he felt great on the mound.

It was everything around him that was wonky.

His team was playing a home game at Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium, but it didn’t seem much like an opening day. The ballpark was empty because the CPBL, the first major professional baseball league in the world to begin its 2020 season, is staging games without fans for the foreseeable future.

“The adrenaline is different,” Miranda said in Spanish during a phone interview. “You feel alone.”

The CPBL is a five-team league in Taiwan, an island state off the coast of China with a population of nearly 24 million. Baseball is the top sport in Taiwan, which has produced more than a dozen Major League Baseball players.

Founded in 1989, the CPBL has faced game-fixing scandals that forced a franchise to fold in 1998 and the expulsion of another in 2008, but it is the only major professional baseball league up and running amid the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

Japan’s NPB and South Korea’s KBO are targeting starts in early May after delays. Major League Baseball, which suspended operations March 12, has discussed various scenarios for the 2020 season, including having all 30 teams play in the Phoenix area, but a plan has not been finalized.

Taiwan has been credited with administering one of the world’s best responses to thenovel coronavirus. The Central Epidemic Command Center reported just 395 confirmed cases and six deaths since the virus surfaced in December. Authorities reported two new cases Wednesday after reporting none Tuesday. The United States reported 29,465 new cases Wednesday.

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