Making a welcome return to BFN, British ‘baseball artist’, Andy Brown…
It was a month ago that I came for my first visit to Taiwan to paint the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL). Having witnessed the Chinese Taipei national team in Seoul during the 2017 World Baseball Classic (WBC), it was a journey I had been eager to make. What had struck me about the Chinese Taipei team was predominantly the fans and their energy and passion for baseball. It was something I wanted to, experience and capture in their own domestic league. Following the success of my first taste of the CPBL, I was invited back for two weeks recording the 2018 Playoffs and Taiwan Series.
For over 5 years, I have painted ballparks, players, and all things baseball across the world and in many different leagues: KBO, NPB, CBL, MLB, MiLB and Indyball. I paint to record and promote the game that I have come to love and to capture the diversity and similarities which make baseball unique in different countries. Through my work I hope to uncover more history and stories, to understand more of what baseball means to the people who watch, play and organise the game, and to preserve this for future generations to enjoy.
Filmed painting by Eleven Sports during the Lamigo Monkeys home game at Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium
There are four teams in the CPBL : ChinaTrust Brothers, Fubon Guardians, Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions, and the Lamigo Monkeys. For a baseball fan and travelling artist this makes it a very manageable league to follow. The fast, regular and affordable High Speed Rail network conveniently stops at all the main cities where the teams play, meaning travel around the country is straight forward. This is helpful as being ‘on the road’ whilst carrying a decent amount of art supplies requires me to be practical in the way I work. I tend to finish at least one canvas per game, which is stretched over stretcher bars slotted together in my hotel room before I head to the game. Once dry I can take it off, roll it up and prepare for the next piece. When working at the game I need relatively little space, often able to work from a seat, or from the stadium concourse, where I can set up a small easel and get to work with my paints.
Tainan Municipal Baseball Stadium, CPBL Playoff Game 2.
Accurately reflecting my first impression from the 2017 WBC, the atmosphere here in Taiwan is one of the many things that makes it so unique. The sound of the ballparks is a mix of the KBO and NPB with the songs and chanting similar to Korea combined with the brass bands, drumming and flag waving more often found in the Japanese game. It makes for an electric atmosphere, which brings so much life and energy to every game and this ambience has featured more and more in the artwork I have produced. Portraits of fans, the beer boys and girls, the cheerleaders and more, all make it onto the canvas within my ballpark paintings, giving an all-embracing feeling of what the CPBL is like.
CPBL Cheer Squad Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium. Oil on canvas.
Since being here the Taiwanese fans have also been wonderfully supportive: asking for photos of my work, selfies, gifting me with cans of beer and merchandise, or just coming to say hello. I was blown away to have a very young boy offer his official game ball to me! His family were sat a few rows in front of me, and he came to look at my painting, so I painted him into the crowd. His watching father promptly told him to give me his ball – a kind and very generous offer, but I had to refuse such a grand sacrifice!
Most amusing/bemusing has to be an encounter with Mr Lee – a fifty-something ball hawk I met before a Fubon Guardians game in Taipei’s main stadium Xinzhuang. Bridging the communication gap between us through the use of gestures and signals, Mr Lee told me how much he liked my paintings. As there was a brief rain delay, I asked if he could pose for me while I painted his portrait, an offer he was pleased to accept. To my delighted surprise, five minutes after we had finished he came back with a CPBL ball he had caught which he wanted me to autograph! This was something I have never done before and, to be honest, didn’t know how to do. Surely this is an experience reserved only for the realm of professional baseball players and not baseball artists? Greatly honoured, I did my best, we had a photo together, and at the end of the game, there he was waiting by the exit to escort me to a taxi, waving me off from the curb as I pulled away. All very humbling! It is moments such as these which make Taiwan baseball parks such memorable places to visit.
(Left) Mr Lee. Oil on Canvas. (Right) With ‘GGG’ Lamigo Monkeys cheermaster
For me, these quirky moments are very much part of the CPBL and of great interest to global baseball fans such as myself. Instead of first pitch at one game, a Taiwanese national team volleyball player spiked a ball towards home plate. Very different to the pop stars, presidents, nuns (Sister Mary Jo Sobieck) and other VIPs dealing heat from the mound elsewhere in the world!
The unexpected nature of the CPBL also continues within the game itself, with the standard of play being comparatively more variable than other leagues I’ve visited. This makes for very exciting twists and turns as a game progresses. A certain out, is not always guaranteed, keeping you on the edge of your seat. The recently finished playoffs have had that and more with the games being close fought until the very last pitch.
The Bullpen, Taichung Intercontinental Stadium. Oil on Canvas.
I also recently had the pleasure of meeting Nick Additon (KBO, MiLB) and Mitch Lively (NPB, MiLB) who both pitch for the ChinaTrust Brothers. They explained to me that it is a tough league to pitch in, with defence not always being what you might expect and, with only four teams in the league, batters become very familiar with a pitcher’s style over the 120 games of the regular season. This leads to batters having comparatively high batting averages (.296 for this season).
With Mitch Lively and Nick Additon of the ChinaTrust Brothers
There are four main stadiums in Taiwan. If you ever have the chance I would highly recommend them to any fan. They are all very varied and all have their own unique charm and special features.
Tainan Municipal Baseball Stadium is the country’s oldest ballpark. Built in 1931 by the Japanese, it has a feel similar to the hallowed Koshien, home of the Hanshin Tigers of the NPB. It is rough around the edges, with hard-edged concrete blocks acting as seats in the outfield, and crooked walkways around the ballpark which show it’s been developed over time. The history and games witnessed here can be sensed within its dirt and cracks.
Tainan Municipal Baseball Stadium, Tainan. Oil on canvas.
Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium is the home of the Fubon Guardians who play in this western district of Taipei. Xinzhuang is a very modern ballpark which boasts great views of the Taipei skyline. It also has a faux fortress-like designed facade with turrets and buttresses that even Henry Vlll would have been proud of! These serve as the main entrance through which fans walk when entering.
Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium, CPBL Playoffs Game 3. Oil on canvas.
Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium is the home of the Lamigo Monkeys, the reigning Taiwan Series champions. They also are the favourites for this year’s series. Their stadium has an awesome outer facade with bamboo-like struts and a jagged canopy both of which create an atmosphere in keeping with this country’s culture and heritage. Taoyuan is the location of the main international airport and, inside the ballpark, the highlight has to be the small plastic plane which the main cheermaster regularly ‘flies’ thanks to a hydraulic system lifting him skywards behind home plate. With smoke jetting out of the back whilst he dances and leads the latest chant, it is an vision I have never seen anywhere else during a ballgame!
Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium. Oil on canvas.
The most visually impressive arguably has to be the Taichung International Baseball Stadium with its arched design which frames the ballpark magnificently. When approaching in a taxi, its red curves are the first thing which stand out again the mountains on the horizon.
Taichung Intercontinental Stadium. Elih Villanueva pitching a ‘No Hitter’. Oil on canvas.
Along with painting the stadiums and fans, I also paint the local sights and countryside. I find that this is often reflected in the ballparks, and game itself, for example the bamboo-like shape of Taipei 101 from ‘Elephant Hill’ in Taipei, or the chaotic scooter-filled roads below my hotel window. The colours are bright, the energy is high and there is a vibrancy to the streets which most certainly comes across in the country’s baseball too.
Taipei from Elephant Hill. Oil on canvas.
Downtown Taichung. Oil on Canvas.
Since coming to Taiwan, I have not only been amazed by the warmth of the people, the fantastic sights and food, but also the excitement of the league. This weekend the Taiwan Series begins in Taoyuan: the Lamigo Monkeys will play the Uni President 7-Eleven Lions (it’s currently 1-0 to the Monkeys). I will be there ready with my paint and brushes and I cannot wait to take it all in.
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