MLB All-Star team arrives in Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- An All-Star team of major leaguers led by New York Yankees stars Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson arrived in Taiwan on Sunday, less than 48 hours after the St. Louis Cardinals won Game 7 of a scintillating World Series.

The MLB All-Stars will play five games this week against a Taiwanese team that includes Washington Nationals pitcher Chien-Ming Wang, one of two Taiwanese now pitching in the majors.

Other members of the MLB squad include Pablo Sandoval of the San Francisco Giants and a pitching staff of Bill Bray, Ross Detwiler, Dillon Gee, Collin Balester, Jeremy Guthrie, Mark Melancon and Jose Veras.

Also on the team are catchers Drew Butera and Jeff Mathis; infielders Erick Aybar, Michael Morse, Ryan Roberts and Danny Valencia; and outfielders Emilio Bonifacio and Logan Morrison.

The series against the Taiwanese offers MLB a chance to nurture its brand in Asia, where the sport is widely popular in Japan and this island 100 miles off the China coast.

"It's an honor for us to be here," said Jim Small, vice president of MLB Asia. "Baseball is such an important culture in Taiwan."

Baseball has been the island's leading sport at least since 1969, when a Taiwanese squad won the Little League World Series in the U.S.

That came some 60 years after colonial master Japan first introduced baseball to the island, mainly as a recreational activity for its resident administrators. The Taiwanese themselves took up the sport in the 1920s.

Despite a series of game-fixing scandals that have progressively whittled down the number of teams in its one professional league, baseball remains hugely popular on the island of 23 million people. MLB games -- many featuring the Yankees -- are broadcast live during the season, and fans closely follow the Taiwanese teams in international competitions.

The Taiwanese squad took the silver medal at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, and finished fifth at the 2004 games in Athens. In 2008, however, it stumbled badly in Beijing, even managing to lose to China, where baseball is still in its infancy.

This week's series of games -- one in suburban Taipei and two each in the central city of Taichung and the southern city of Kaohsiung -- mark MLB's second recent appearance on the island.

In March 2010 manager Joe Torre led a Los Angeles Dodgers team that included Manny Ramirez and James Loney for a rain-truncated two game series. Taiwan-born pitcher Hong-Chih Kuo is now on the Dodgers roster.