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A Taiwanese Baseball Icon Advocates for Women on the Diamond

Po-Chun Liu grew up believing she could make baseball history. Before she could walk, her father would take her to the stadium to teach her about the sport that would define her life. He told her: “You are capable of anything, Po-Chun.”

But, when Po-Chun walked into tryouts for her junior high school baseball team, she received a different message.  The coaches told her there was a “no skirts allowed” policy and turned her away. Taiwanese girls weren’t supposed to play baseball.

Refusing to give up her ambition to play the game, a young Po-Chun volunteered with Little League Baseball. She assisted with summer camps, collected paperwork, and began interpreting for Taiwan’s baseball association during international competitions. At national tournaments, she noticed the poor quality of the umpiring and knew she could do a better job, so she began taking the first steps toward becoming a game official.

“I had no idea I was going to be the first woman to umpire baseball in Taiwan,” Po-Chun says.

After a few years of serving as a base umpire, Po-Chun sought to make the big move to becoming a plate umpire. The local baseball association told her there was no equipment for female plate umpires. Even her colleagues told her, “No, that’s enough. Aren’t you satisfied?” Undeterred by the negative reactions, Po-Chun pushed ahead. While interpreting for the New York Yankees during their visit to Taiwan in 2009, the team learned about her story and offered to sponsor her gear.

“That night I told my parents, ‘This is surely my destiny,’ Po-Chun recalls.

Since 2006, Po-Chun has umpired for World Baseball and Softball Confederation (WBSC) tournaments in Venezuela, South Korea, and Hong Kong. But, she never had the chance to play the sport she loved. In Taiwan, women’s baseball only exists at the amateur level. At one point, Po-Chun organized an international tournament, inviting women’s teams from all over the world, and booked the largest stadium available. It had never been done before. One of her friends even told her, “Maybe the men are right. How can we play on a regular field? We don’t deserve that.”

According to world gender equality statistics, the gender gap in Taiwan is closing, with women attaining higher levels of economic opportunity, education, health, and political empowerment than ever before. But, for advocates like Po-Chun, it can often appear as if there is a brick wall separating women and sports.

“Sometimes I feel like I live in another world when I play baseball,” Po-Chun says. “In Taiwan, women can be highly educated. But our traditions say we must not play sports. We should be in the kitchen. And, if we should be in the kitchen, then we certainly shouldn’t be playing baseball.”

Despite the challenges, progress is happening. Po-Chun, who has a bachelor’s degree in social work from National Taipei University and master’s in religious studies from National Chengchi University, has published five books about her experiences, including her 2016 publication, Safe & Out: The Courage of Persistence and Introspect: How Baseball Teaches us about Frustration and Attitude. She often appears on television and is asked to contribute columns to national newspapers. Her junior high school, which denied her the chance to play more than two decades ago, even invited her back to speak to the girls.

“In Taiwan, I am called the mother of baseball,” Po-Chun says. “I want to make girls believe they have the potential to take charge in their lives despite traditional stereotypes. My baseball journey isn’t the same as every girl, but I show girls that it can help you pursue a career and happiness. Baseball makes you feel like you can do anything.”

In addition to her umpiring duties, Po-Chun works as a project manager for The Garden of Hope Foundation, an NGO that serves women victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and sex trafficking. She believes that sport can change lives across all backgrounds, and wants to see more female leaders in government and greater financial support from sponsors for women’s sport. Her ultimate dream is to one day run a baseball school in Taiwan.

Through participation in the U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program, Po-Chun will learn vital marketing and sports management from experts in the United States, as well as share her unique perspective as one of the first female baseball umpires. Of American women leaders in the sports sector, few with the expertise and wisdom of four-time mentor Susan Cohig, senior VP of business affairs and integrated marketing for the National Hockey League (NHL). For almost two decades, Susan has worked in the company’s national office overseeing all areas of business, integrated sales, and digital marketing and media. She knows what it feels like to be a female voice in the male-dominated world of sports, and how to work with leagues and teams to promote women’s initiatives in the U.S. and abroad. With her own unending determination and Susan’s close guidance, Po-Chun is guaranteed to write new chapter of success for women’s sports in Taiwan.

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