Stu Cliburn spent 27 years as a pitching coach in the Minnesota Twins organization before embarking on a new journey 8,634 miles away from his home in Fort Myers, FL.
On February 4, 2020, Cliburn boarded a flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Taiwan to begin a job as a pitching coach for the Wei Chuan Dragons, an expansion team in the Chinese Professional Baseball League. He made the move to a small town two and a half hours south of Taipei during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in China.
The major league season in Taiwan was delayed by three weeks due to the virus, but is back up and running with proper health and safety measures in place. Coaches, players, and all other personnel are required to wear masks around the arenas and have their temperature taken ahead of entry into the stadiums.
“I’ve seen some umpires wearing masks in games, but none of the players have yet,” said Cliburn.
The CBPL is one of the few sports leagues operating in the world, and is playing without fans in the ballparks. Cliburn feels that decision was “rightfully made”, especially since games are televised for fans.
“Of course we’re not playing in front of fans now, which can be dull especially for the players,” said Cliburn. “Hopefully the virus will get under control so we can play in front of fans again soon.”
Beyond COVID-19 differences, Cliburn has not experienced a great amount of culture shock in Taiwan. The former Red Wings pitching coach has worked spent summers working with baseball leagues in South America and the Caribbean, but this is his first time traveling to Asia.
“I’ve gone to so many foreign countries before that it wasn’t a huge adjustment for me,” said Cliburn. “It’s sometimes hard with players on the field, that’s why we have interpreters here.”
The Dragons work with two interpreters, as well as a staff of both American and Taiwanese coaches. Cliburn and the other coaches from the US have tried to introduce “the American way” of playing ball in the league.
“The old baseball etiquette of you don’t steal second when you’re up nine runs doesn’t apply,” said Cliburn. “You want to score as many runs as you can here.”
His job is also very different in Taiwan, with pitchers throwing at a lower velocity than they would in the United States.
“You don’t see as many strikeouts,” said Cliburn. “The break in ball isn’t as strong either. With the lack of velocity and a break in ball, we have to get these guys to pitch inside, which we’ve done a better job of.”
Even though the nuances of the game vary, Cliburn feels as though the game stays the same around the world.
“Baseball is baseball,” said Cliburn. “You make the same mistakes over here that you do in America. This is just another journey in this baseball life that’s been going on about 48 years now at the professional level for me.”