TAIPEI -- Just before the long, wide sweep of land, just before the great big whole of Eurasia and the African vastness that kisses it, just before those huge swaths of soccer and that gigantic pocket of cricket, a Saturday night in a seven-million metropolis on an island in the Pacific turned up a quirky little gem of a game.
You might have thought baseball unpromising here. You might have ridden the half-hour taxi to the north of the city thinking the most compelling matter of the night would be the Taiwanese soap opera on the cabbie's little TV up front, because that soap did seem to reach a crux of melodrama when a man banged in the door of a shrieking woman, shoving away the furniture she had pushed there as blockage.
You might have noticed that above the TV, on the dashboard, the driver did keep tissues.
Further, you might have heard and read about the demoralizing game-fixing scandal of a few years back. You might have learned that attendance in 2012 totaled only 583,805. You might know a league that once boasted 11 teams now has four, and that a landscape that once brimmed with a Manny Ramirez for the first chunk of 2013 no longer brimmed with a Manny Ramirez for the second chunk of 2013. And in the near-distance you might have spotted the clouds, the irate clouds, the climate-change clouds.
You might have figured you'd end up almost alone and drenched, seated in some far-flung section three rows from some guy gone to sleep from his fourth or fifth Taiwan Beer.
He'd lost count.
So had you.
Instead, with one stroll past the large replicas of a bat and ball in the Tianmu Stadium front yard, and with one ticket that cost about 10 bucks, the stadium tunnel opened up to one big Saturday night pleasantry. It availed a 10,500-seat stadium almost full for the Brother Elephants against the EDA Rhinos. What's more, it majored in children, thrilled children, small children, children throwing balls to each other in the concourses, even those occasional Asian toddlers who see a blond guy and take on a furrowed look of a profound worry that seems to translate as, "You are just about the weirdest thing I have ever seen."
The scene had flags, vivid colors, a center-field scoreboard with lineups in electronic purple (highly recommendable). As a different culture, it had ideas fans could incorporate in American baseball. If baseball went from the United States to Japan to the Japanese rule of Taiwan (1895-1945), why couldn't some of these ideas come back to the United States?
For one thing, guys on each side brought drums, two drums, including behemoth drums. It might have made you mourn the drum-lessness of us (besides Indians fans, of course). The Rhinos-side drummers in Rhinos purple accompanied some safari-ish music. They would go on half-inning hiatuses whenever their team went on defense, yielding to the opposing drums. And really, life is hard enough without a happy drum sequence after a bloop single to left. (And yes, there was a happy drum sequence after a bloop single to left.)
One young man brought along a trumpet, alerting me to the galling lack of trumpets in American stadia, although I guess trumpets could get old. Men with microphones led cheers and chants, and while this wrinkle might seem debatable, it might enhance the experience if some fan had a microphone when, say, A-Rod came to bat.
And the popups and fly balls . . .
The simple popups and slightly less simple fly balls would dredge oohs and aahs from the crowd almost every single time, from a crowd still not jaded by the normalcy of popups and fly balls. It could make you rethink the whole thing, wonder at our lack of wonder over the geometric wonder of popups and fly balls. Even after a routine fly-out, the drums would resume, the drums resilient whether a ball reached ground or glove.
The noise proved constant, refreshingly constant. There were war chants and, just to prove that some habits spread across all cultures, there was the familiar cavalry rift instructing a team: "Charge."
Beyond even all of that, it's always worth it to watch a manager visit the mound with a translator, as Rhinos manager Huang Chung-Long did during a sketchy patch of the top of the seventh, with the former University of Massachusetts pitcher and former Arizona Diamondbacks first-round draft choice, Matt Torra.
Does the translator ever soften it?
In the concessions with the long queues, a man kept dipping some sort of food-on-a-stick into something that looked like breading, but which a woman in line referred to as a "cake." Maybe they can stick with the sushi in Seattle or the gluten-free booth in Miami.
So with all four teams within two games of each other lately, the Rhinos and Elephants played a taut and clearly meaningful 3-2 match, the Rhinos and Torra winning with a tidy save from Huang Liu-ching. They didn't even need their perfectly executed sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the eighth. After all of it, the players did something exemplary; like soccer players do the world around, they thanked the fans, the Elephants ringing the mound for a bow, a practice somebody ought to take up back in the States.
That was appealing. Besides that, it drizzled only once. And besides that, attendance passed one million in early August, with many citing the home nation's good performance in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, and many citing Manny-being-Manny. And besides all of that, before reaching the Eurasian landmass, and before the soccer near-totalitarianism of Europe et al, and the cricket explosion of South Asia, most any American regardless of baseball geekdom level ought to be able to appreciate a perfectly executed Saturday night sacrifice bunt.