Mon, Aug 21, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Feature: Baseball star offers hope for Taiwan

FASTBALL Amid bitter political infighting and an uncertain economic outlook, many Taiwanese draw solace from Wang Chien-ming's successes

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tang Bi-a, a big fan of New York Yankees pitcher Wang Chien-ming, displays her collection of Wang-related baseball products in this photo taken earlier this month. Tang said that she is organizing a 100-strong group to travel to the US to root for Wang.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

The day the New York Yankees played the Washington Nationals, Huang Che-bin (黃哲斌), a baseball fan, was trying to get his son to sleep while watching the live broadcast of the game at 3am on TV.

"When the player for the Nationals got a hit in the ninth inning that eventually tipped decided the result of the match, Wang Chien-ming (王建民) walked back to the dugout and was so furious that he threw his baseball mitt onto the bench," Huang said in his online journal. "I felt so sad that I nearly dropped my son, who I was carrying, to the ground."

Huang's early morning frustration was shared by other major league baseball fans in the nation.

They were not particularly upset about the Yankee's losses this season. But they grumbled and perhaps cursed over the Nationals' win because Wang, born and bred in Taiwan and a local sports hero, had been kept from securing his first perfect game -- a victory in which the pitcher allows no opposition players to reach first base -- in the major leagues this season.

Tales similar to Huang's have been repeated throughout Taiwan since the current baseball season started in the US, as many people keep track of the number of victories Wang has garnered so far as the Yankees' starting pitcher.

Fans either wake up in the early morning or stay up after midnight to watch Wang throw his powerful sinkers or sliders, which travel at speeds exceeding 156kph.

The ups and downs of the game then become fodder for lunch-hour conversations or the substance of instant-message exchanges.

And the fervor goes beyond just talk.

Products featuring Wang, his signature, his photos and jerseys with his last name and his number, 40, have become popular collectors items.

Hsu Cheng-hu (徐振湖), a spokesman for Lakesports Athletic Requisites, the company that is the official retailer of Major League Baseball products in Taiwan, said Wang-branded items quickly sell out once they hit the store.

He said that one company even ordered 100 T-shirts featuring Wang from his store, to give as gifts to their clients.

A fan of Wang as well, Hsu said the pitcher's success has encouraged those who have lost faith in Taiwan.

"The nation's politics and economy have been chaotic these days. Wang's victories have now become a spiritual refuge for many," Hsu said.

To some, rooting for Wang is more about national pride than strict admiration of his skill.

"[Watching Wang throw the ball] is like watching a Taiwanese team compete against a team from a foreign country," said Hsu Chuan-yang (徐川洋), a fan of Wang and a researcher working in a state-run laboratory.

The positive image of Wang has also prompted Acer Inc to invite him to become the company's spokesperson for its own-brand laptops.

Following former Dodger outfielder Chen Chin-fen (陳金峰) and Rockies pitcher Tsao Ching-huei (曹錦輝), Wang has become the third Taiwanese player to have excelled in the big leagues.

A 26-year-old Tainan City native, Wang started playing baseball when he was in elementary school, where he trained to be a pitcher, as well as a first-baseman and an outfielder.

Wang graduated from Taipei Physical Education College, and has represented the country in many international games, including the 2002 Asian Games and the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

His ability to throw fastballs caught the attention of the baseball scouts from the US, who later drafted him to play for the minor-league Staten Island Yankees during the 2000 season.

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