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

Wilson agrees that pitching is not a position where size is as a big of an issue, which is why Taiwanese players have had success at the position in the major leagues. “You can be successful in the big leagues if you can pitch and locate and command and have good secondary stuff to go with it, you know ... size doesn’t matter,” Wilson says. The Cubs currently have four players from Taiwan in their system, three of them pitchers.

Adam Hislop of the Oakland Athletics, who lives in Hsinchu and scouts in Asia, knows the passion for baseball in Taiwan. “Japan, Taiwan and Korea, they are baseball countries. There’s tons of baseball, there will be a lot of talent,” Hislop says. “There are going to be more Chien-ming Wangs for sure.”

All Taiwanese players going to play for major league teams are signed as free agents and all must have a high school diploma before they can be signed. Players also have to deal with the issue of Taiwan’s mandatory military service, either by deferring it or by getting credit for it by making and playing for the Taiwan national team in international tournaments.

Huang says most of the kids who sign with teams don’t have a good sense of the difficulties they will encounter playing professional baseball in North America: “Those who go [over] do know, but the ones who haven’t yet gone, they don’t know. They don’t believe how hard it is.” One of the challenges players must overcome, Huang explains, is the language barrier.

Alan Chang (張嘉元), director of Taiwan baseball for the Chicago-based sports management agency Octagon Sports, agrees. “The sooner they learn English and ... assimilate into the team ... and get comfortable in the system [in North America] ... the more chance they have to succeed.” Among the ballplayers he represents are Wang Chien-ming, Kuo Hong-chih (郭泓志) of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Ni Fu-te (倪福德), who is in the Detroit Tigers’ organization.

Part of Chang’s job is to educate players and parents about what’s involved in going over to North America to play professional baseball. He says he tries to be realistic about a player’s prospects. The mental make-up of a player is especially important: how they will deal with the language and cultural barriers, the physical toll of a long season and the always-worrying possibility of injury, as well as going into a situation where they are not the best player.

Chang says each major league team has six minor league teams, with more than 200 players trying to make their way onto the major league roster. It’s a long road: Even if a kid sails through the process, it still takes about five to six years. Most never make it. Steve Wilson says that with six or seven players making the major leagues out of the 30 or so signed, Taiwan has a high ratio of success relative to other countries.

Chang says having Wang, Kuo and Tsao Chin-hui (曹錦輝) — who all threw in the 90-plus miles per hour range as high schoolers — emerge at about the same time is a rarity. As were the big signing bonuses they received: US$1.9 million, US$1.25 million and US$2.2 million, respectively.

For most players it’s a different story: They’ll only experience the minor leagues, with their modest pay and long bus rides. But for many players the dream persists.

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