Taipei-Taiwan's national baseball team will open its bid to secure a berth in the Tokyo Olympic Games at the Premier12 baseball championship when it faces Puerto Rico in Taichung on Tuesday.
With baseball returning to the Summer Olympics for the first time since 2008, the quadrennial Premier12 has been given added importance this year by serving as an Olympic qualifying event.
The top finisher from the Americas will earn one spot and the best team from the Asia/Oceania region, other than Japan, will earn another, as long as they finish in the top six.
That means it will have to finish above South Korea and Australia in the tournament, because Japan has already secured an Olympic berth as the host country.
Taiwan, competing under the name Chinese Taipei, will open its campaign against Puerto Rico at Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in its Group B debut.
It will then face other Group B teams Venezuela at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium and Japan on Thursday night back in Taichung.
The top two finishers of the group will advance to the final six-team Super Round to be held in Japan.
With no Major League Baseball (MLB) players currently on a 40-man roster eligible to play in the Premier12, the home team is largely made up of Taiwanese players competing in the U.S. minor leagues, in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball league, and in Taiwan's own Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL).
The biggest names on the pitching roster are former MLB pitcher Chih-Wei Hu (???), who currently plays professionally in Mexico, and Shao-Ching Chiang (???) of the Columbus Clippers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.
Among the better known field players are Jin-De Jhang (???), a catcher with the Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, the Richmond Flying Squirrels, and Wang Po-Jung (???), the cleanup hitter for Japan's Nippon Ham Fighters.
Even if Taiwan fails to claim a spot in the Olympics through the Premier12, it will have a last chance to do at the Olympic Final Qualifying Tournament, which will take place in March or April 2020.
Taiwan qualified for that tournament last month after taking the gold medal at the Asian Baseball Championship, which it won for the first time since 2001.
Sanctioned by the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), the 2019 edition of the Premier12 features the top 12 teams in the WBSC's 2018 year-end world rankings.
Other teams in the Premier12 include Mexico, the United States, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Canada, and the Netherlands.
Taiwan finished in ninth place in the inaugural edition of the Premier12 in 2015, failing to advance to the quarterfinals after finishing with a 2-3 record in Group A.
South Korea won the tournament by defeating the United States in the final.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel