He pitches with a sense of purpose and responsibility. For the Yankees' Wang Chien-ming, celebrity and earning potential grow with every ground ball. The better he pitches, the better he can take care of his family in Taiwan.
Wang, who was scheduled to start at Yankee Stadium yesterday against the Los Angeles Angels, has become more than the best ground-ball pitcher in the American League. At 26, he is a national hero in his home country, where he endorses computers and potato chips.
"When I used to go back to Taiwan, there weren't that many events to go to," Wang said through an interpreter before a game in Chicago last week.
"Starting last year, there have been more events, and going out is not as convenient," he said.
The kinds of events he attends are telling.
"Going to orphanages," Wang said, "and events for premature babies."
Wang started playing baseball in fourth grade, as a pitcher, first baseman and outfielder. He attended high school in Taipei, although his hometown is Tainan.
It was through baseball that he learned an important part of his personal story.
"We were going out to a competition and needed our personal documents," Wang said, explaining that meant the names, relationships and birthdates of family members. "When I got my documents, I learned who my biological parents were. My parents didn't tell me."
Wang found out then that his biological father was the man he knew as his uncle, Wang Ping-yin.
Wang Chien-ming's parents had no children of their own and offered to raise him. They later had a daughter, Wang Hsiu-wen, who is two years younger.
It must have been a startling revelation, but the pitcher betrayed no emotion when talking about it.
"I didn't feel anything in particular," he said. "I felt it was all right, like I had two fathers."
If anything, Wang Chien-ming said, he became even more serious about succeeding as a pitcher.
"I felt I had to work even harder in order to help two sets of parents," he said, adding later, "Most of my money I send home to let my parents manage. The rest I use for living expenses in America."
In the off-season, Wang and his wife, Chia-ling, live with the parents who raised him. He loves his mother's cooking, he said, but the overriding reason is cultural.
His parents, who manufactured metal products like spoons and lunch boxes, have been retired for about 10 years. In Taiwan, he explained, it is customary for sons to stay at home and take care of their parents. Long after learning his background, he remains very close with the parents who raised him.
"In Taiwan there's a saying: `Raising a child is more important than giving birth. Raising a child is greater,"' Wang said.
No Taiwanese player had played in the major leagues until outfielder Chen Chin-feng joined the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002.
Wang Chien-ming attended a sports college, Taipei Ti Wu University, and was signed by the Yankees for about US$2 million in 2000, with a hard, straight fastball as his primary weapon. Shoulder injuries sidelined him for all of 2001 and part of 2003, but by 2004 he was a star for the Chinese Taipei Olympic team and, by late August, the top starter for Triple-A Columbus.
The timing of his surge was significant. Had he blossomed in the spring of 2004, rather than the late summer, he might have attracted the attention of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who aggressively scouted the Yankees' farm system before the July 31 nonwaiver trading deadline.