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CTBA hoping for a 'diamond in rough' with semi-pro league

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- A semi-professional summer baseball league, featuring at least five local amateur teams as well as a group of foreign imported players and coaches, is scheduled to launch in late May, the Chinese Taipei Baseball Association (CTBA, 中華棒協) announced yesterday.

The league, named “Popcorn,” will feature Taiwan Cooperative Bank, Topco Scientific, Vee Telecom, Chii Lih Coral and National Sports Training Center, CTBA Secretary-General Richard Lin (林宗成) told a press conference in Taipei. Taiwan Power Company, another of Taiwan's amateur baseball powerhouses, could also join the league, he said.

The league will officially kick off on May 24 and will run until late September.

Each team is allowed to enlist 30 members, including four foreign players and one foreign coach, Lin said. Each team can also recruit student players.

The CTBA is working together with Major League Baseball (MLB), and the latter will offer assistance to the teams of the league in recruiting foreign talent.

Cable TV channel Videoland Sports Channel (緯來體育台) will be responsible for broadcasting the 150 games of the league's debut season. The TV channel will also work with the CTBA to share the budget in supporting the operation of the league, he added.

The reason why the league is called Popcorn, Lin explained, is that he thinks these amateur players are just like “unpopped popcorn” who only need a platform to sharpen their skills before rising into stars.

Rival League or Grooming Next CPBL Star?

The latest move to launch the semi-professional league came after the Videoland Sports Channel, a broadcaster for the local Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL, 中華職棒) for 17 years, lost its bid to broadcast the CPBL's ongoing 25th season games earlier this year.

MP & Silva, an international media rights company that won the broadcasting rights for league games for the next six years with a landmark NT$2.1 billion deal this January, decided to work with EDGE Sports Channel (博斯運動頻道) instead of with Videoland.

Asked to comment if the launch of the Popcorn league is done to rival the CPBL, Lin refuted the accusation, saying that the latest venture is only meant to boost the competitiveness of Taiwanese amateur players.

In 1997, the Taiwan Major League (TML) was founded because of a CPBL broadcasting rights dispute. After running losses, the TML merged with the CPBL in 2003.

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