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Baseball: Jaded Taiwan fans regain faith for season-opener

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Taiwan's professional baseball season has got off to a good start, with more than 17,000 attending the opening game in another sign that fans are regaining faith in the scandal-hit sport.

A sell-out 17,693 people packed the Taoyuan baseball stadium in the north Saturday as the Lamigo Monkeys met the Uni-President Lions in the Chinese Professional Baseball League.

It was the highest attendance figure for a season-opener since 2004.

"This is the best opening game I have ever played," Lin Chih-sheng, the Lamigo slugger who was chosen as MVP for his three-for-four including a two-run homer, told the China Times.

Analysts said fans regained their fervour while rallying behind the national team in the World Baseball Classic this month, when Taiwan progressed into the second round for their best-ever showing in the contest.

The players returned to a heroes' welcome and were honoured by President Ma Ying-jeou.

Lin voiced hope the support would continue. "I hope the fans will rally behind us not just in the opening game, but in the second and the remaining games."

Many disillusioned baseball supporters boycotted stadiums in recent years following a series of gambling scandals implicating coaches and players.

Attendance plummeted to an average of 2,432 in the four-team league last year, compared to a peak of 7,000 in the late 1990s.

In the latest scandal Lu Wen-sheng -- the respected head coach of Uni-President Lions -- and his wife were investigated for having "unintentionally" leaked confidential information about the team to a ring of illegal gamblers last year.

He was forced to resign as head coach but was not charged.

In mid-2011 six former players in the professional baseball league and a politician were jailed for up to seven years following a match-fixing scandal.

All betting on domestic sports is banned in Taiwan. There is a government-organised sports lottery but it is exclusively for games abroad, such as American baseball or European football.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130324/baseball-jaded-taiwan-fans-regain-faith-season-opener