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During Pandemic, MLB Baseball Announcer's Audience Grows

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The World Series starts tomorrow night, and the stage is set. It'll be the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays. The series will wind down the most unusual of baseball seasons here in the U.S. and cap off a most unusual stretch for one sportscaster. NPR's Andrea Hsu has the story.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: All right. We continue to follow breaking news here.

ANDREA HSU, BYLINE: Let's go back to March 12.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Major League Baseball will, in fact, suspend all operations indefinitely.

HSU: It felt like all of sports was shutting down that week as coronavirus took off in the U.S.

RICHARD WANG: We were just like, OK, this may be a very slow year for us.

HSU: That's Richard Wang on the line from Taipei. Since 2014, he's been one of the voices of Fox Sports Taiwan, calling MLB games in Chinese.

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WANG: (Speaking Chinese).

HSU: You can guess what happened there. Baseball is kind of a national obsession in Taiwan. And Wang's love of the sport was cemented in the 90s when he spent time studying in Boston, living in the shadow of Fenway Park.

WANG: When there's a night game, I would have the lights spilling into my living room. I didn't turn the lights on. I just listened to the radio.

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UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR: One out, ninth inning, runner at first. Here's the pitch.

HSU: It was a great way to work on his English. Fast forward 20-odd years to this spring. By April, Taiwan already had the coronavirus under control. An executive at Eleven Sports Taiwan thought, why not seize the moment to introduce the world to the Guardians, the Monkeys, the Lions and the Brothers - Taiwan's professional baseball league?

WANG: The idea came in really quickly.

HSU: Wang had never called a game in English before. He turned to his MLB TV subscription to listen to last year's games. He worked hard on phrases, like...

WANG: In there for a strike. In the beginning, I was like, there's the first pitch. And that's a strike.

HSU: Doesn't quite have the same ring. He rehearsed lines out loud everywhere he went. He often got looks.

WANG: What the hell is this guy doing?

HSU: What he was doing was preparing for this.

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WANG: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls and baseball fans from all around the world, good morning. Good afternoon. And good evening to everybody of you.

HSU: The game streamed live on Eleven Sports' Twitter feed to baseball fans starved for any action on the field. The first five games garnered 5 million views.

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WANG: And the first batter for him to face will be Li Zong-xian (ph). First pitch in there for a strike.

HSU: ESPN radio host Clinton Yates would tune in from Los Angeles, often at 2 or 3 in the morning.

CLINTON YATES: The sun was never up when I was watching.

HSU: It didn't matter. Yates love taking in Taiwan's baseball culture through the commentators, their descriptions of the ballpark.

WANG: It's a rock concert kind of atmosphere here.

HSU: The fans.

WANG: They sing. They dance. A lot of the times, they don't even sit on the seats.

HSU: And, of course, the food.

WANG: So you have a juicy pig blood rice cake kind of thing.

HSU: Clinton Yates says for American viewers, the draw wasn't the quality of the games or the number of teams.

YATES: That's no knock on any of the players. It's just that it gets repetitive - and like more variety. But if they can tune into a show that they like, it's definitely a good draw. And it kept me for a while.

HSU: By July, of course, there was finally baseball in the U.S. And life for Richard Wang got really crazy. Now, in addition to calling the Taiwan games in English, he was back to calling MLB games for Fox Sports Taiwan.

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WANG: (Speaking Chinese).

HSU: As the seasons here and there draw to a close, Wang has no idea what's next. The future of MLB broadcasts in Taiwan is up in the air. And who knows whether there will ever be Taiwan baseball in English after this strange year? It may only last one season, Wang says, but it sure was a memorable one.

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WANG: We'll see you tomorrow, then. Goodbye.

HSU: Andrea Hsu, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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