• AFP-Jiji

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Playing to empty stadiums, Taiwan has managed to keep its baseball league running during the coronavirus pandemic — but social distancing went out of the window on Sunday when a game descended into an on-field brawl.

The island has been held up as a model for how to battle the virus outbreak.

Despite its close proximity and economic links with China, it has just 422 confirmed cases and six deaths.

As a measure of its success, Taiwan has one of the few professional sports leagues in the world still operating, and a new international audience starved of games back home.

But on Sunday night, fans following on TV watched as a game between the Rakuten Monkeys and Fubon Guardians erupted in a bench-clearing brawl.

The melee broke out after Fubon pitcher Henry Sosa hit in-fielder Kuo Yen-wen in the hip with an inside ball, the fourth inside pitch at Kuo.

"There are some tempers exploding out there right now," an English-speaking commentator said on Eleven Sports Taiwan, which has started broadcasting Rakuten Monkeys home games in English worldwide.

"For our international viewers, you need to understand that this never really happens in the CPBL," he added, referring to the league's formal name.

"It's usually a very conservative league. They don't even argue balls or strikes or outs very often."

Taiwan's new baseball season opened last weekend — although fans are not allowed into the stands in a bid to keep infections down.

Rakuten made headlines after it unveiled a troupe of robots to bang drums and mannequins to stand in for real fans.

Eleven Sports Taiwan said it had close to a million views during two games live-streamed with English commentary last week.

Many other sports leagues have tough decisions to make on whether and when to let new seasons begin during the ongoing pandemic.

Pro baseball leagues in South Korea and Japan are targeting starts in May and June respectively after delays.

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