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Valentine seeks to revive 'game of life' in Asia

La New Bears, left, the lefty pitcher Wu Si-yo wears his new Japan's Chiba Lotte Marines jersey with Japan's Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine dur...

La New Bears, left, the lefty pitcher Wu Si-yo wears his new Japan's Chiba Lotte Marines jersey with Japan's Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine dur...

Bobby Valentine, the former manager of the Texas Rangers and the New York Mets and skipper of the Japanese Pacific League's Chiba Lotte Marines since 2003, calls baseball the "game of life." In an interview with the Taiwan News conducted earlier in December when he signed the La New Bears Wu Si-you, the 56-year-old American baseball icon shared his views on baseball in Taiwan and Asia and marketing strategies needed here to boost the game's attendance.
Taiwan News: Part of your job as a manager is to seek out new blood for the team. When you go on scouting trips, what do you look for in players?
Valentine: First of all, raw talent is a must. You must have a level of natural born talent in order to succeed in this profession. However, that only makes you a good player. To become a great player, you must have a real love for the game. You have to be willing to be humble, work hard, train hard, and be part of the team. Also, a great player must possess an ability to concentrate because it can get very distracting out on the field with all the fanfare. Furthermore, a person's reaction to losing is also very crucial. You must have the right attitude if you want to be great in the game.
Taiwan News: You are here in Taiwan to sign on La New Bears Wu Si-you. What are some of the things you saw in him when you decided to take him on?
Valentine: Wu is a fabulous left-handed pitcher, which is a rarity in baseball. I think he has the talent to be a good pitcher. However, he must learn to work hard and listen in order to become the world class pitcher that he could be. Like most 23 year-olds, Wu needs to go through a rigorous strengthening and body conditioning program to be in the shape that he needs to perform at a level that he could be. Besides his talent, Wu also has a love for competition which will propel him to the top.
Taiwan News: By luring away another baseball player from the Chinese Professional Baseball League, some people see you as a vulture, taking advantage of a waning league. Do you think that's a fair comparison?
Valentine: Of course the Taiwanese fans will feel that way. It is very understandable. However, my goal is to develop baseball in Asia, not just merely Japan or Taiwan. Although they are two separate countries, the two teams have a symbiotic relation when it comes to baseball. We are not stealing him from Taiwan because we will fill the void we have created. His fans in Taiwan will continue to know about him from the Web site. We will create a blog for him. If he does well in Japan, people in Taiwan will feel proud of him and of their own players. The public will pay more attention to the games and perhaps more people will want to play baseball professionally. Corporate sponsors will see that it pays off to train their players well. It's a win-win-win situation for the players, the fans, and the sponsors. The Chiba Lotte Marines have also signed a working agreement with La New to help promote their shoes in Japan. As part the agreement, the money generated from promotion will go straight back to the La New Bears, not the shoe (company). This way, the team will get the much-needed dollars to improve their games.
Taiwan News: You once said that Asia is a gold mine for baseball. What potential do you see in Asian baseball?
Valentine: I believe there are many baseball talents yet to be discovered in Asia. There are little gold nuggets here and there, just waiting to be developed. Baseball is a grossly undervalued asset in Asia. There is nowhere in the world where baseball is the national sport for so many countries in the same continent but Asia. Baseball has been extremely popular in Japan, Taiwan, and Korea. There was a strong love for the game. But it is losing its attraction in all three countries because other sports are beginning to take over. It is not just a disease indigenous to Taiwan, its everywhere. Some people see the American major league baseball as the cure, but I don't think so. Sports used to be the "easy way" out because if you were good at it, you could make enough money for the next two or three generations. But now there are options. People are aspiring to be computer gurus or rap stars. There's money to be made in other areas. To revive baseball in Asia, you have to get to the root of the problem which is improving the baseball environment within the country. We have to educate the mothers on baseball. With so many fathers working long hours away from home, mothers are often left to take care of the children by themselves. In the past, dads were the ones to play sports with their sons in the park. They teach the son how to stand at the plate, how to swing the bat, and how to catch the ball. But now the trend has changed, the mothers or even the nannies are the ones taking the kids to the park and instead of the hassle of bringing a bat, a ball, and a mitt to the park, it's a lot easier to just bring a soccer ball and let the kid kick it around by himself.
Perhaps the Asian sponsors should consider paying their players a higher salary that is convincing enough for the players to stay in their own country. It does not make sense that a Taiwanese mother has to fly all the way to Japan or the United States to watch her own son pitch a game. Once you elevate the quality of the game, people will come back to the stadium because the love of baseball is already part of the culture.
Taiwan News: Game attendance has decreased dramatically in Taiwan as more and more people are watching the game from home instead of going to the stadium. What do you the teams could do to draw more people to the stadium?
Valentine: In the past, a winning game was the best magnet to attract the audience to the game. But now its simply not enough. The fans' needs have changed and now they have a wider appetite. Now they want get to know the players in a more intimate way. Unless the fans' needs have been satisfied, they will continue to stay away from the stadium. So the team not only needs to increase the quality of the game, the corporate sponsors should also think of ways to make the entire experience more pleasant, such as offering things fans can't get by sitting at home. Stadium upkeep is another key. Fans do not want to go to a dilapidated stadium, unless you can somehow transform it into a landmark. For example, in the Chiba Lotte Marines stadium, we built a small museum on the team. There is a souvenir shop where fans could buy memorabilia and paraphernalia of the team. It is about creating an ambience for the fans. The stadium should also offer great food and drinks and state-of-the-art sound systems to make up for an old building. Once the fans feel appreciated and valued, they will want to come back. This way, the players will deliver a better game because they receive the much needed moral support from the fans, the corporate sponsors earn money and most of all, the game of baseball will be improved.


Updated : 2021-06-19 15:23 GMT+08:00