Sun, Aug 15, 2010 - Page 13 News List

Searching for the next Wang Chien-ming

The road ahead may be tough, but Taiwan’s young baseball stars are dreaming of a future in the major leagues

By Eric Shih  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER IN THUNDER BAY, CANADA

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Winning the gold medal was the goal of each player on the 18-and-under Taiwanese national team at the World Junior Baseball Championship that concluded earlier this month in Thunder Bay, Canada. But many of the players are also aiming for an even bigger prize — one day suiting up for the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers or another major league baseball team.

It’s Lin Tzu wei’s (林子偉) dream. The third baseman was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, with a batting average over .600 and 12 runs scored for Taiwan, which plays under the Chinese Taipei banner.

Lin says he hopes one day to play major league baseball like Wang Chien-ming (王建民). In fact, at this point in his career, he’s one step ahead of Tawain’s most famous baseball player. His team did better than the silver medalists Wang pitched for in 1997, joining the 1983 squad as the only other team from Taiwan to win the gold medal.

Since its inception in 1981, the World Junior Baseball Championship has featured many players who have gone on to become major league stars. Tournament alumni, in addition to Wang, include players such as American League MVP Joe Mauer, catcher for the Minnesota Twins; Kendry Morales of the Los Angeles Angels, who played for Cuba; and South Korean Shin-Soo Choo of the Cleveland Indians.

Some of the best up-and-coming 16 to 18-year-old players in the world were at the 12-team event, a fact not lost on the 30 major league franchises, which are all involved in the highly competitive process of identifying the best future players. According to Warren Philp, the lead organizer of the tournament in Thunder Bay, about 80 scouts attended the event, in addition to agents and MLB officials, many of whom came with stopwatches, radar guns and notepads, observing carefully and trying to discover the next Wang Chien-ming.

Glenn Barker, director of Pacific Rim scouting for the Houston Astros — one of the dozen or so major league teams that actively scout in Taiwan — travels to Taiwan about four to five times a year and says a tournament like this one is great for assessing talent. “When you come here, you get to see [the Taiwanese players] play against more competition from around the world and so ... you can see how they compare to other guys.”

That’s the reason Steve Wilson came to Thunder Bay. Based out of Tainan, Wilson is the Pacific Rim Scouting Coordinator for the Chicago Cubs. Wilson says Taiwanese players do well because they play year round and have fundamentally sound skills and that, at the younger levels, Taiwanese pitchers are more polished and have greater command of their secondary pitches, which they throw for more strikes. What hurts Taiwanese players by the time they reach the high school level is their size compared with players from other countries: “When you compare the bodies on the field ... it’s just physically [they] don’t have the same strength, [they] don’t have the same kind of bodies that are going to be able to have the same kind of power.” This size difference was evident between the Taiwanese team and some of the other teams at the tournament.

Height is a significant factor when determining whether a player goes to the US to play baseball, says Taiwan’s national junior team manager Huang Wu-hsiung (黃武雄). Huang says the general rule is that players should be 185cm or taller to play in the North America. Those who are shorter go to Japan or play professionally in Taiwan. However, Huang says the rule doesn’t always apply to pitchers.

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