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Tokyo 2020 Olympic baseball gold medal game home-plate umpire Hwa-Wen Chi reaches CPBL 2,000-game milestone

Tokyo 2020 Olympic baseball gold medal game home-plate umpire Hwa-Wen Chi reaches CPBL 2,000-game milestone
18/07/2022
“It was an incredible honour to be part of the Olympic tournament. The Tokyo 2020 gold medal game is definitely the most unforgettable memory in my life.”

Twenty-four years after he first stood at the left foul line in the inaugural game of the Taiwan Major League at Chiayi County Stadium, Hwa-Wen Chi shook hands with Samurai Japan's manager Atsunori Inaba and USA's Mike Scioscia at Yokohama Stadium prior to the start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic baseball gold medal game. Chi was home plate umpire for the gold medal game, calling balls and strikes.

“This is it. Let’s get it done. Let’s have a good game,” Chi told himself as he prepared to call Play Ball! and became the first umpire from the Chinese Professional Baseball League to work the Olympic baseball final.

It’s been a long and twisty road that led Chi from the harbour city, where he twice worked as a customs broker, to ballparks worldwide. “Keelung was a baseball desert when I was growing up, and naturally, we didn’t get many opportunities to play. But I wanted to be part of the action, and I thought being an umpire would get me right into the action.”

The desire to be part of the action never faded. The CPBL announced hiring umpires in 1995, and Chi swiftly quit his broker's job to become one of the 12 reserve umpires.
"During the training period (that lasted for several months), I was one of the only two who never missed any classes."

In 1996, the Taiwan Major League (TML) was founded, and Chi, who had been outstanding during training and in amateur game assignments, became the new league's top umpire. Chi joined the TML in September before the league sent their entire umpire squad to Joe Brinkman’s Umpire School in early 1997.

“It was an eye-opening experience for me,” Chi commented.

In the inaugural game of the TML 1997 season, Chi was assigned to be the left-line umpire with former CPBL umpire Jeff Thibodeau behind the plate.

After officiating 747 TML games, 145 at home plate, CPBL and TML merged, and Chi was back to where it all started: “I went back to my hometown to work at the custom brokerage firm for another year before returning to baseball.”

International Baseball

Chi’s first international assignment came in 2014 at the WBSC U-21 Baseball World Cup in Taichung. Chi and Chien-Wen Su were the only two umpires from CPBL.

“I clearly remember that it was Larry Young who made the recommendation to WBSC to have us working in the tournament,” said Chi.

Young, a former Major League Baseball (MLB) umpire, shared his knowledge during the tournament.

“It was truly an honour to work with the legend.”

The WBSC selected Chi and Su (pictured above) to work in the inaugural Premier12 in 2015. They became the only two umpires from Chinese Taipei to work in the Premier12 semifinals and finals. Chi was behind home plate in the 2015 Premier12 final between Korea and USA.
“I want to thank Gustavo Rodriguez, the umpire director of the tournament, for recognizing my work and trusting me.”

“It was a great experience to work at the WBSC U-21 Baseball World Cup, the Premier12, and the World Baseball Classic. I was able to show the world our umpiring level and enjoy the games simultaneously.”

“The called to ask me to work at the Olympics, which was definitely something unexpected but nonetheless the proudest moment of my umpiring career,” added Chi.

As soon as he received the Olympic assignment, the entire Chi family started to live a very cautious lifestyle for over a year.

“We all cut down the unnecessary activities. We started monitoring our health conditions. Everyone did their best. They all wanted to see me at the Olympics.”

“In 2021, we had to report our health conditions to the Olympic authority every day through the system."

After the postponement, the Olympics finally happened.

“After clearing the health protocol at Narita Airport, I was taken by a shuttle to Fukushima to prepare for the opening game between Japan and the Dominican Republic, which I worked at the plate.”

“The moment came as the proudest of my career, and I also see it as the result of my perseverance in the job of being an umpire,” said Chi.

Before stepping onto the field of Azuma Park in Fukushima for the opening game, Chi told himself, “Here we are after all these years of preparation and waiting. Do it right, get it done, and there is no room for error.”

After the opening game, Chi joined other umpires in Yokohama for the rest of the tournament. “In addition to the duty of the games, I also learned to enjoy the games. Between the innings, I would get some moment to look at the field, the players, the batboys and the staff understanding how much effort everyone has put in and appreciating the opportunity to be there.”

Ten days after the Olympic opener, Chi was behind home plate again, this time ready to call the biggest game in his career – the Olympic gold medal game. After Japan defeated the U.S. to win gold, Chi had a glimpse of the field as the umpires, as always, quickly left at the end of the game,

“It was an incredible honour to be part of this tournament. The Tokyo 2020 gold medal game is definitely the most unforgettable memory in my life.”

On 6 May 2022, as Chi took his position at third base for the game between the Rakuten Monkeys and Fubon Guardians in Xinzhuang Stadium, Chi became the sixth CPBL umpire to reach the 2,000-game milestone.

“It’s just a process [to reach the 2,000-game milestone], and I do believe other umpires after us will have the opportunity to achieve it, too.”

“I am extremely appreciative of Larry, Gus and other predecessors for their help, recognition and trust so I can be here today,” said Chi on a final note.