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Festivities open Dodgers' series in Taiwan

Festivities open Dodgers' series in Taiwan

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TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Normal stretching, normal batting practice, normal game?

Well, not quite. From the Little League clinic on the field with Major Leaguers Hong-Chih Kuo and Chin-lung Hu at Tianmu Baseball Stadium four hours before first pitch, there was nothing normal about it.

Most of the late-arriving crowd for the Friday rush-hour game missed batting practice and couldn't compare the swings of current Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez with those of Chin-Feng Chen, a former Dodgers left-field hopeful who returned to his native land and became a star in the Chinese Professional Baseball League.

This series could lead to an eventual Opening Day Series in Taiwan, according to Jim Small, vice president of MLB Asia, although the next overseas venture will probably be a series in Japan after this season between All-Star teams from MLB and the Japan League.

But MLB considers Taiwan, in the words of Dodgers manager Joe Torre, "a baseball hotbed." Friday night's game was not a sellout, organizers said, because the game was a late addition after the originally scheduled games for Saturday and Sunday sold out so quickly.

"I'm proud for Kuo and Hu, to have Major League players on their turf," said Torre, who held court with two dozen television camera crews.

Watching batting practice, Torre said he wasn't too concerned about the effect of jet lag on his players.

"They're young. They'll bounce back better than I will," he said. "It would be different if it were the start of the season. "This is Spring Training. They know why they're here."

Among the pregame presentations Friday night was a donation from the Far Eastern Group to the Chinese Taipei Baseball Association to help fund youth baseball. Local rock star Roger Young performed, followed by the traditional lion dance around the mound.

Nearly the entire Dodgers team was on the top step of the dugout watching the pregame ceremonies, some with cameras in hand.

The mayor of Taipei, How-long Bin, threw out the first pitch, with Dodgers pitcher and Taiwan native Kuo serving as catcher.

After introductions of both teams and the national anthems, the teams had a ceremonial trading of caps.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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