Dodgers land in Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- After a 15-hour plane ride, the Dodgers landed in Taiwan at about 6 p.m. local time to kick off a three-game exhibition series.

Their EVA Air 777 charter plane were met outside the gate by several hundred fans -- some of whom had been waiting for five hours -- and a throng of camera crews.

"Baseball is the national sport,'' shortstop Chin-lung Hu said before the contingent left the spring training complex at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz. Hu is one of two Taiwanese players on the Dodgers' roster,

"That is what we play," he said. "I'm not sure why it's not soccer. But everyone in Taiwan plays baseball.''

Manny Ramirez was the biggest attraction for fans waiting at the airport, but native sons Hu and pitcher Hong-Chih Kuo also drew a lot of attention. First baseman James Loney was swarmed by fans as he stepped out of the charter bus to sign a few autographs outside the airport. As the crowd around him swelled, Loney returned to the bus.

A police escort accompanied the charter buses through rush hour traffic to the Sherwood Hotel in downtown Taipei, where another crowd of fans and photographers awaited the team's arrival.

"Wow, this is crazy,'' outfielder Xavier Paul said. "There was so much energy out there.''

Hotel workers lined up to greet the players, applauding as the Dodgers passed through the hallways on their way to check in.

Several hundred local media were already stationed in a ballroom awaiting the team's news conference.

"I'm looking forward to being here,'' manager Joe Torre said. "This is a part of the world I've never been to. I was always curious, knowing that your Little League teams used to win the Little League World Series all the time so I knew baseball was very big, and I'm very anxious to get a look at the city.''

Torre then exchanged gifts with local dignitaries and fielded questions about Kuo, Hu and his former Taiwanese ace with the Yankees, Chien-Ming Wang.

Ramona Shelburne is a writer and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.