The March 2012 results are in for the MLB.com Top 50 Fan Sites, and MLBblogger was named the number eight website. We believe this is a result of our continued coverage of baseball worldwide, and our international readers quest for accurate information on their favorite players. In the last six months, MLBblogger has produced original and engaging stories on the Asia Series, Taiwan All-Star Series, Australian Baseball League All-Star Game, Arizona Fall League, Chinese Professional Baseball League, Korea Baseball Organization, Nippon Professional Baseball League, Australian Baseball League, Italian Baseball League, Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball, Major League Baseball, MLB Italian Baseball Academy, MLB Fan Cave, Minor League Baseball, College Baseball, High School Baseball, Cactus League Spring Training and the Japan Opening Series. Thanks for the support!
Feeling so blessed to be associated with the great number eight and knowing that baseball is a game of numbers and statistics, we thought that it would be of great interest to dig a little deeper into the number’s historical and cultural significance. The Chinese view the number eight (ba 八) as the most auspicious number because its pronunciation, particularly in southern dialects, is very similar to “prosper” or “wealth” (fa cai 发财). Based on a #8 Hong Kong license plate fetching a handsome $640,000 recently and home street addresses containing multiple number eights still in high feng shui demand, one would believe that property with the number eight is valued greatly in China. It’s no coincidence that the opening ceremony of the Beijing Summer Olympics began promptly at 8:08:08 p.m. For many people, eight is the symbol of harmony and balance. The number symbolizes the ability to make decisions as well as abundance and power. The Pythagoreans called the number eight “Ogdoad” and considered it the “little holy number”. Jews consider eight symbolic of an entity that is one step above the natural order and its limitation, which is why Chanukah lasts eight days.
Baseball Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Cal Ripken, Jr., Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Stargell, Joe Morgan, and Gary Carter wore the number eight. It’s quite possible that a couple 2012 MLB players donning the #8 silks will soon join these legends–including: Ryan Braun (Brewers), Shane Victorino (Phillies), Jason Bartlett (Padres), Yorvit Torrealba (Rangers), Kurt Suzuki (A’s), David Ross (Braves), Kendrys Morales (Angels), Gerardo Parra (D-Backs), Chris Coghlan (Marlins), Danny Espinosa (Nationals), Desmond Jennings (Rays), Ben Francisco (Jays), Mike Moustakas (Royals), and Jamey Carroll (Twins).
So who will win the 2012 Major League Baseball World Series?
If you like the number eight, then there are three possible live candidates. Last month’s Vegas.com future odds to win it all had the Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at 8-to-1 odds. Then again you could spend all your money on a license plate… Good luck wherever you invest!
Australia has produced over 330 players who have signed professional contracts with Major League Baseball (MLB) clubs and boasts more MLB contracted players than talent pools from China and its province in Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Cuba. Australia set a country-best record earlier last year with nine Aussie players being called up to the major leagues. Now in 2012, there are now nearly 60 Australian players competing in the major and minor league circuits. In total to date, there have been 35 Australian players who have successfully achieved MLB status.
Leading the charge of the thunder ‘Down Under’ in Major League Baseball is Grant Balfour of the Oakland Athletics. Balfour is just one of two Australian professional players to compete in a World Series as a late-inning relief pitcher for the 2008 American League Champ Tampa Bay Rays. Acquired by the Rays in July 2007 from the Milwaukee Brewers in a trade sending pitcher Seth McClung to Miller Field, Grant Balfour did not make Tampa Bay’s opening 2008 roster. However, after turning heads at Triple-A Durham and closer Troy Percival being placed on the disabled list early into the season, the Rays sent Ben Zobrist to Durham in exchange for Balfour. Tampa Bay’s decision paid off immediately as the Aussie pitcher was worth his weight in gold.
Assuming the role of Rays closer for the ailing Troy Percival until mid-July, Balfour ended his regular season campaign with a stellar
6-2 record and a 1.54 ERA. In perhaps the most memorable appearance of his Tampa Bay career, Balfour struck out future Baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. for the final out of game four of the 2008 American League division series against the Chicago White Sox and led the Rays to its first playoff series win ever. After a three-year stint in Tampa Bay, Balfour signed a two-year contract worth 8.1 million dollars with the Oakland Athletics in January 2011. In
his 62 innings of relief for the A’s during 2011, Grant struck out 59 hitters and racked up five wins for the third-place Athletics. He also repeated his personal best 14 2/3 inning scoreless streak in 2011.
The 34-year-old Balfour, who made his MLB debut back in
2001 for the Minnesota Twins, is the Australian patriarch for future Aussie baseball prospects. Although more than a decade has passed since then, he appears to have turned a new leaf and be at the prime of his career. Perhaps his greatest Aussie highlight came on September 15, 2010–when he fanned the Yankees’ Austin Kearns and passed former MLB star Graeme Lloyd on the career strikeout list for Australian-born pitchers. Lloyd, however, can still lay claim to being half of MLB’s first
all-Australian battery with catcher Dave Nilsson in 1994.Up-and-coming 23-year-old pitcher Liam Hendriks of the Minnesota Twins made history in his MLB debut last year on September 6th–when he, teammate Luke Hughes and White Sox Shane Lindsay became the first three Australians to play in the same Major League Baseball game. Leading the Major Leagues since 2004 for lowest amount of walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP), Chicago’s Jake Peavy was hardly the best candidate
to go head-to-head against for his first MLB victory. With no run support from his Twins offense, the Perth-born Hendriks fought hard by pitching seven strong innings but in the end lost his first decision 3-0. Fox Sports North analyst and Baseball Hall of Famer
Bert Blyleven praised Hendriks on his first outing. He said, “From what I saw today, he deserves a B-plus. I thought he pitched very well, he did a good job.
Hendriks controlled both sides of the plate, and he changed speeds well. He got through it with flying colors. Run support would be nice but you can’t always have that, but I thought he pitched a very, very good ballgame.” The elusive first win never manifested in four appearances this past season; however, Hendriks kept hitters guessing by striking out 16 in a combined 23 innings of work. Liam Hendriks was signed by the Twins as a non-drafted free agent out of Australia’s Sacred Heart College in 2007. He made his professional debut as an 18-year-old that summer with the Single-A Rookie Gulf Coast League Twins. In his eleven starts in Florida, Hendriks went 4-2 with a 2.05 ERA. In 2008 he pitched for the Australian national team in the Final Olympic Qualification Tournament before undergoing season-ending back surgery. Prior to the start of the 2009 season, Hendriks returned on the hill for his country in the World Baseball Classic.
Coming off a layoff, he then resumed play in the minor leagues, where he posted a 5-5 record with a 3.55 ERA in 14 starts. Hendriks was selected for the 2010 All-Star Futures Game, but was forced to miss the contest due to appendicitis. In 2011 he began the season at Double-A New Britain and went 8-2 with an impressive 2.70 ERA in 15 starts. Hendriks was promoted on July 19th to Triple-A Rochester, where he tallied a 4-4 record with 4.56 in nine starts. History would repeat itself the Aussie right-hander was once again selected to the World Team roster in the 2011 All-Star Futures Game. As if being chosen an All-Star for the second consecutive year was not enough, the six-foot-three, 210-pound Liam Hendriks was recently named the 2011 Jim Rantz Award winner as the Twins’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year after ranking second among all Twins Minor Leaguers in wins (12) and strikeouts (111). Hendriks has a promising future ahead in MLB.
Facing Detroit Tigers’ Max Scherzer on the mound in his first major league at bat in April 2010, Luke Hughes slugged a home run out of the park. Perhaps an early indication of what was to follow in 2011 Twins Spring Training, Hughes showed a ton of promise with his bat and defensive position versatility.
By leading the Twins with six home runs, 15 RBI, a .567 slugging percentage and 37 total bases in the preseason, there was no way manager Ron Gardenhire was going to send him back down to the minors again. Luke played in 96 games as a utility infielder in his first full major league season in 2011.For an anemic Twins offense which ranked 25th of the 30 professional baseball teams, Hughes power was a welcome addition to Minnesota as he slammed seven home runs and racked up 30 RBI. The late-blooming 27-year-old Luke Hughes will certainly improve with more playing time as he becomes more familiar with some of MLB’s best pitchers. During the offseason, he played in 19 games for his hometown Perth Heat in the Australian Baseball League (ABL) and hit .344 with four home runs and 13 RBI.
Going into 2011 Chicago White Sox Spring Training in Arizona, relief pitcher Shane Lindsay had a career minor league record of 19-14 with a 3.65 ERA in the NY Yankees, Colorado Rockies and Cleveland Indians organizations. Although he did not make the 25-man opening day roster, manager Ozzie Guillen and pitching coach Don Cooper were very much impressed with the 27-year-old career minor leaguer. So much in fact that when the roster expanded in September–it was graduation time to Major League Baseball for Lindsay. After posting a 1.98 ERA and punching out 78 in 63 innings of relief work at the Triple-A level, Shane was put to the test in his MLB pitching debut on September 2nd against the 2011 American League Central Division Champion Detroit Tigers. In his inning pitched as a reliever at Comerica Park, Lindsay allowed no hits with a strike out and a walk. The six-foot-one, two hundred five-pounder made three other relief appearances before the end of the season.
Lindsay elected free agency in October 2011, and agent Paul Kinzer reported in November that his client had signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He will need to impress coaches at Dodgers Spring Training when pitchers and catchers report at the end of month at Arizona’s Camelback Ranch to make the 2012 Dodgers Opening Day roster. Most predict Shane Lindsay will begin as a member of the Dodger Triple-A affiliate Albuquerque Isotopes bullpen in anticipation of the MLB call up.
Former Australia World Baseball Classic team member and current Atlanta Braves 33-year-old reliever Peter Moylan underwent right shoulder surgery during the offseason to repair a torn right labrum and rotator cuff. The groundball specialist was encouraged by surgeon Dr. James Andrews’ projection that he would likely only need six months of rehab. Moyan said, “It is what it is and couldn’t have been avoided. It’s rough, but it just means my offseason will be spent rehabbing instead of relaxing. It’s not going to change anything. I’m still going to be ready to go by the end of spring.” Moylan has long been plagued by a series of injuries and surgeries. The Aussie pitcher missed most of the 2011 season after another surgery for a bulging disk in his back.
With 287 game appearances under his belt in his on-and-off again six seasons in MLB, Moylan has been a workhorse out of the bullpen when not on the disabled list. After recovering from Tommy John surgery, the hard-throwing right-hander with his signature side-armed ‘down under’ delivery returned in fine form in 2009 and set a Braves franchise record 87 relief appearances. 2010 was equally as busy as his workload included 85 appearances in relief.
Even for a reliever who has set the bar high with a respectable 2.60 ERA and 205 strike outs in his illustrious MLB career, there is a heightened sense of optimism that if Moylan returns healthy in 2012 that his personal best year for the Braves has yet to come. An Atlanta fan favorite out of the bullpen, Peter is also well-liked on Twitter–unless you are in the band Nickelback. Considered less than entertaining live, they were nearly booed offstage in Detroit on Thanksgiving. @PeterMoylan tweeted to Nickelback lead singer Chad Kroeger that he should attend a Foo Fighters concert to learn how to put on a good show. “Foos are killer for sure,” tweeted Kroeger. “We’re doing just fine too thanks. ? for you Pete, is watching [Braves closer Craig] Kimbrel better from the bench or on TV?.” Better cancel Atlanta boys!!! Worth following anywhere, Peter Moylan is top-notch entertainment.
Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Trent Oeltjen could have easily followed his childhood friends playing rugby in Sydney. Instead, his American father made sure that Trent played T-Ball at an early age and developed a love for his dad’s country’s favorite pastime. After catching the eyes of MLB scouts as a standout player for Australia in the World Junior Baseball Championship, Oeltjen signed a professional baseball contract with the Minnesota Twins organization at the ripe young age of 17. He was chosen to play for the Australian national team at the Athens Olympics in 2004. As a member of Australia’s 2005 Baseball World Cup and 2006 World Baseball Classic teams, Oeltjen once again represented his homeland. Oeltjen proclaimed, “Any time you get to represent your country on the world’s stage, it’s a dream come true for any Australian kid.”
The accolades continued as he was selected to the 2006 MLB All-Star Futures Game and the 2007 Baseball World Cup, where he led the international competition in three major categories. Batting an unstoppable .523, stealing seven bases and scoring nine runs, Oeltjen became the first Australian in the event tournament’s 37 years to make the All-Star team and win its Batting Award. “The World Cup really helped me turn around my career,” Oeltjen exclaimed. “It helped me get the confidence to know that I could play against some of the best players in the world. Since then I’ve found that my career has really turned around.” He was summoned once again for more Aussie baseball ambassadorship duty in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, where another strong offensive 6-for-12 batting frenzy ensued. Not surprisingly, his success for Australia coincided with another baseball dream realized. The aspiring and talented athlete spent nine years in the minor leagues before making his MLB debut for the 2009 Arizona Diamondbacks, thereby becoming Australia’s 27th member of the elite Major League Baseball fraternity.
On August 6, 2009, Oeltjen made the best of his MLB debutagainst the Pittsburgh Pirates by blasting his first major league home run over the right field wall off relief pitcher Jesse Chavez in the top of the 8th inning to tie the score in a game the D-Backs would win in extra innings. Leaving a lasting impression on baseball fans and international supporters who always believed in his athleticism, Oeltjen finished the game 2-for-6 with one RBI and two stolen bases.
After playing in 24 Diamondbacks games before the end of the 2009 season, Trent Oeltjen signed with the Dodgers in July 2010. He was assigned to Triple-A Albuquerque and later called up to the majors briefly at the end of the 2010 season. In June 2011, the left hand-hitting slugger earned his way back up to the major league level for good with a .339 batting average–including a sizzling .440 in May–racking up eight homers and 34 RBI in 56 Triple-A games.
During the remainder of the 2011 season, Oeltjen played in 61 Dodgers games in the absence of Manny Ramirez. Despite a major letdown in Mannywood, it was all blue skies for the Aussie outfielder. He took full advantage of the opportunity to become an everyday player. However, 2012 will prove to be a critical season for the 29-year-old as he strives for a slot in the Dodgers Opening Day line-up.
A Major League Baseball Australian Academy Program (MLBAAP) success story playing for two of Australia’s
and America’s finest organizations in the Sydney
Blue Sox and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Rich Thompson recently returned from his third trip to Taiwan after pitching for the Major League Baseball
All-Stars in the 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series. Having played for the Australian national team during his junior and senior international career, Thompson was well aware of the young Chinese Taipei team’s talent and ability to compete. This time he made history as the 27-year-old Hornsby-native not only was the first of the 31 Australians to play Major League Baseball to be selected for a traveling All-Star Series team but also the first MLB pitcher to win two games in the five-game exhibition series. Enjoying a solid 2011 campaign for Halos manager Mike Scioscia, Thompson made 44 appearances and kept batters at bay with a 3.00 ERA. Best known for being a pressure situation reliever with men on base, Thompson comes through when called upon to deliver key outs in times of critical crises.In 54 innings of work, the rally stopper struck out 56 hitters and solidified his position in the Angels bullpen. Seven years younger than senior mentor Grant Balfour, Thompson is in a better position in becoming the bright new face for Australian baseball players in the major leagues. When asked by OzMLBplayers blogwhat was the best advice he could give up-and-coming Australian baseball prospects, Thompson paused, reflected and thought back to some words of wisdom offered from a fellow Aussie. “When I was 13, I attended a two-day camp with Mark Shipley,” said Thompson. “Shipley’s advice was: Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Always be clean-shaven. And church on Sundays. That always stuck with me. Since I can’t be bothered shaving and we play games on Sundays, I guess two out of four ain’t bad.” Thompson believes an improved attitude and a cutter that strengthened his arsenal of pitches led to the best season of his career. “I really felt like it was an attitude change.
Having that extra pitch (cutter) maybe gave me some more confidence, and I had more opportunities to get guys out.”
Although he hails from Geelong, Australia, San Diego Padres southpaw Josh Spence began his collegiate pitching campaign at Central Arizona Community College, where in two seasons he stifled and rung up batters at an alarming rate (327 strike outs) to the tune of a whopping 1.40 ERA. Arizona State University (ASU) recruited Spence into their 2009 starting rotation, and the Sun Devils enjoyed a ride to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska as a result. Spence has proven that he can compete under pressure when it counts and deliver outstanding pitching performances when they mean the most.Teammates Mike Leake–named 2009 National Player of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) and current Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher–and Jason Kipnis–named a 2009 1st Team All-American by ABCA and current Cleveland Indians second baseman–witnessed first-hand the pitching magic of Josh Spence–named a 2009 2nd Team All-West Regions Honoree–as he compiled a 10-1 record with a 2.37 ERA during his junior year. It will make for an interesting 2012 ASU reunion this year between July 30 and August 2 at Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark when Leake and Kipnis face Spence for the first time in opposing uniforms.
The slender six-foot-one lefty Spence was drafted in
the third round by the Angels in June 2009, but he opted not to sign so that he could return to Arizona State for his senior year. However, he missed the
entire 2010 college season with a vague elbow injury. Regardless, the Padres still selected him in the ninth round of the 2010 draft, and he proved healthy enough to pitch 24 innings between rookie ball and the Midwest League. Prior to being called up to MLB in June 2011, Spence surrendered only 48 hits and struck out 84 with a remarkable 2.14 ERA in 71 innings pitched in the minor leagues. The 24-year-old continued his dominant pitching as a San Diego Padres reliever by striking out 31 hitters in 29 innings and posting a 2.73 ERA. Under the watchful eye of former Angels pitching coach and current manager Bud Black, Josh Spence possesses the tools to become not only a promising MLB starting pitcher but also a potential future Cy Young candidate. Padres’ faithful look for Josh Spence to have a breakout season in 2012.
Postseason baseball–courtesy of former Minnesota Twins Double-A affiliate New Britain Rock Cats teammate Michael Cuddyer’s game-winning home run–saved the life of pitcher Brad Thomas. Changing his travel plans and ultimately his fate, Thomas would not leave on this particular date and flight to his native Australia because advancing to the Eastern League’s finals pushed back that trip for him. With airline tickets in hand for he and his wife, Kylie, on American Airlines Flight 11–which took off from Boston on September 11th destined for Los Angeles but instead crashed into the World Trade Center, Brad Thomas lived to tell his story. He commented, “Michael pretty much saved our lives single-handedly by knocking in the winning runs in the last of the playoff games that took us to the next round.” Cuddyer was Thomas’ first roommate in professional baseball in 1997. They played parts of the following seven seasons together, making their way up through the Twins minor league system. When Brad Thomas began pitching for the Detroit Tigers in the 2010, their friendship took a slight turn. Friend or foe–when pitching to an opponent, even a lifesaver–it’s a different ball game. In four career at bats facing the left-handed reliever, Cuddyer is hitless with a walk. Off the diamond, however, they are life-long bros.
While Cuddyer continues to thrive in Minnesota, the future is unknown for the 34-year-old Thomas. With a 6-6 career record and a 5.80 ERA in Major League Baseball, it’s probable that this Aussie will be looking for another minor league deal or a return to Japan or Korea for another new lease on life in the world of baseball. He recently had a great abbreviated season in the Australian Baseball League with the Sydney Blue Sox. The Sydney native made four starts and five total appearances amounting to 22.1 innings pitched. With a 2.42 ERA and a 1-1 record in the 2011-12 ABL season, Brad Thomas demonstrated that he is once again MLB ready.
With a landmark partnership between the Australian Baseball Federation, Major League Baseball and the Australian Sports Commission, the sky is the limit for the recently revamped Australian Baseball League. In an effort to propel baseball’s profile on the Australian sports landscape and foster participation in the game, the ABL seeks to showcase the wealth of talented Australian baseball players on their own home turf and to teach what their fellow Aussie predecessors from decades past have mastered in elevating the sport on the international level. Teams boast elite national players from across Australia along with personnel from Major League Baseball feeder clubs, the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan, the Korean Baseball Organization and the Chinese Professional Baseball League. The ABL pioneers the pathway of development for many emerging Australian baseball prospects as well as offers a vibrant alternative off-season league for games hosted in the northern hemisphere. Currently in its second season as Australia’s premier professional baseball competition with the 2012 ABL Championship Series between defending champ Perth Heat and challenger Melbourne Aces this weekend, be sure to tune in and watch the excitement of what is truly the ABL’s answer to the MLB World Series. For further information on the Australian Baseball League, visit their official ABL website.
In between games at the 2011 MLB All-Star Series in Taiwan, Yankees superstar Robinson Cano and his father, Jose, visited kids at Taichung’s China Medical University Hospital. When begged to promise hitting a home run in that night’s game,
Cano chuckled and smiled before answering sensibly.
“I promise…,” he continued, “I will do my best.”
When playing in MLB, the three-time Silver Slugger recipient and winner of the 2011 Home Run Derby–which raised over $600,000 for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and other charities–is the Captain for the Yankees Children’s Health Fund Home Run Club, where fans pledge their support for quality care to homeless and low-income children with every Yankees home run hit in a season. In his hometown of San Pedro de Macoris AKA the “Cradle of Shortstops” because of countless MLB players who were born there in the Dominican Republic, Cano remembers those who are forgotten and even not heard at the CAES Children’s School for the Deaf by showering the kids with gifts and love for the holidays. The RC24 Foundation’s mission is to serve under-privileged children internationally and improve their quality of life. The pediatric rehabilitation ward at New Jersey’s Hackensack Medical Center was named after Cano in tribute to the All-Star for his frequent visits and contributions, which inspired author Ray Negron to make Cano the central character in his children’s book, “Boy of Steel”—a cancer-stricken boy’s story about his baseball hero. Committed to upgrading the subpar medical conditions in his native homeland by personally subsidizing children’s health care and purchasing ambulances after a friend died while waiting to be transported to a hospital, Cano believes the concept of giving back is just as important–if not more important than playing baseball. He considers himself blessed to play the game he loves for a living and wants to help as many kids as he can with the fruits of his labor. Instead of simply lending his name or making public appearances to raise money for his RC24 Foundation, Cano is a hands-on international ambassador for the welfare of children. American Red Cross National Celebrity Cabinet bilingual member Cano records public service announcements and donates large amounts of money and blood.
Finalist for the 2006 Roberto Clemente Award, MLB’s accolade to the league’s ultimate humanitarian who exemplifies the late Hall of Famer’s values and commitment to community and benevolence, Robinson Cano shares the same altruistic mindset and the same “RC” initials as the Latino legend. At 29-years-old and on pace to join Clemente in the elite 3,000 hit club, Cano is showing increasing power every season–which is great news for the Captain for the Yankees Children’s Health Fund Home Run Club.
Voted by millions of visitors to MLB.com, front-office personnel and MLB alumni to receive the Greatness in Baseball Yearly (GIBBY) ‘Wow Factor’ award, Robinson Cano is undoubtedly the most interesting player in the game today.
Performing slightly behind Chinese Taipei national teammate and Red Sox prospect Che-Hsuan Lin in the recently played five game 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series against the MLB All-Stars, Cleveland Indians top ten prospect Chun-Hsiu Chen hit .250 (4 for 16) with a double, RBI and two runs scored. Switching off between duties behind the plate as catcher and designated hitter for the Chinese-Taipei national team, the Taiwanese-born 23-year old Chen was on a tight leash held cautiously by Cleveland Indians scouting operations assistant Jason Lynn, who monitored his use in the exhibition series and kept an eye out for emerging talent. Protecting his team’s prized jewel, Lynn explained: “He’s an important player for us. Certainly there’s some development left for him, but I think he’s got a pretty promising future ahead of him if he continues to get better.”
With the much publicized early 2011 season-ending injury to San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey and the similar fate suffered in 2010 to Indians backstop Carlos Santana after plummeting collisions at the plate, Cleveland had every right to be concerned about Chen’s safety. In fact, Chun-Hsiu Chen’s imminent rise to join the ranks in the Major Leagues is a form of protection for Cleveland Indians everyday catcher Carlos Santana, who also saw his share of appearances as designated hitter and first baseman this past season. Promoting Chen as Santana’s backup and MLB teammate would increase the longevity of both players over the course of their careers.
Signed by the Indians as a high-profile free agent in September 2007, Chen was originally a third baseman and pitcher in Taiwan. Converted to a catcher for his powerful arm since then, Chun-Hsiu Chen quickly took to the position as demonstrated by his 37% success rate in throwing out potential base stealers in 2010. Ascending up the Single-A/Advanced ranks with an impressive .315 batting average, Chen fast became a breakout player in the Cleveland organization and finished second in batting in the Indians farm system. Named to the 2010 Futures All-Star Game, Chun-Hsiu Chen was promoted to Double-A Akron in 2011.
Driving in 70 runs and setting a record for an Indians catcher with his 16 home runs, Chen racked up enough power numbers to be selected to represent the West Division in the 2011 Eastern League All-Star Game. Recently chosen as Indians Prospect Insider.com Hitter of the Year, one could certainly make a case for Chen’s immediate promotion to AAA Columbus next year. However, should Chun-Hsiu Chen continue to pulverize Minor League pitching, it won’t be too long before we see him calling games for the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson at Progressive Field in Cleveland.
We could see the writing on the wall back in 2008 at iconic Yankee Stadium when 19-year-old Taiwanese-born Che-Hsuan Lin came off the bench as a defensive replacement to play center field in the sixth inning of the Futures Game between his World team and host United States. Best known for flashing his lightening quick agility and speed, it made perfect sense for World Manager Tino Marinez to insert Lin to protect his slim 1-0 lead late in the contest. However, it was Che-Hsuan Lin’s bat that would break this game wide open for the visiting World team. Never considered a power-hitting threat, Lin drove the first pitch he saw in the seventh inning–a 94 mph fastball from Colorado Rockies righthander Ryan Mattheus–over the left field wall for a two-run home run. Che-Hsuan Lin would also hit a single in the ninth and later celebrate receiving the Larry Doby Award as the game’s Most Valuable Player in the World team’s 3-0 victory. This was deja vu as Lin’s heroics were prevalent back in 2000 when belting a grand-slam homer to catapult his Tai-Nan Chinese Taipei team to a twelve and under PONY Baseball Bronco League World Championship in Monterey, California.Ranked eight in the 2008 Boston Red Sox prospects list, Che-Hsuan Lin played for the Chinese Taipei baseball squad in the Olympics. Working his way up the ladder to the Major League level, Lin has been chosen as the Boston Red Sox Minor League Defensive Player of the Year(2008 & 2010) as well as the Eastern League’s Best Defensive Outfielder(2010). By leading all Eastern League outfielders with a .991 fielding percentage and ranking second with 15 assists entering the 2010 season, Baseball America rated Lin as being the Best Defensive Outfielder and having the Best Defensive Arm in Boston’s farm system. Most recently in the 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series as a member of the Chinese Taipei national team, 23-year-old Che-Hsuan Lin once again demonstrated with his throwing arm that he is a force to be reckoned with in MLB’s future. MLB All-Stars outfielder Josh Reddick spoke candidly about his former Red Sox Minor League teammate, “He’s got the best arm I’ve ever seen.” Reddick elaborated, “The accuracy is not 100 percent there yet, but I’ve seen him make throws from the warning track to third on one hop and throw a guy out at second, so it’s pretty unreal to see what he can do.” Asked about Lin’s offensive ability, Reddick enthusiastically responded: “He’s also a great leadoff hitter, he can steal bases, he can hit for contact, so once he learns to develop a little bit of power, I think that’s the only step he needs. But he runs like a deer out in the outfield and is so smooth.” In the 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series, Che-Hsuan Lin led the Chinese Taipei national team in hitting with a .417 batting average (5 for 12), including two doubles and two runs batted in. Bets are on that Lin and Reddick will soon reunite as teammates at Fenway Park in Boston…
Who can create the perfect template for the unification of countries and cultures? Major League Baseball(MLB) and the Major League Players Association(MLPA) may have recently succeeded in bringing the Pacific Rim communities closer together while uniting the Republic of China and the United States through a common love for competitive professional sports. During the first week of November in a joint effort to promote the game of baseball internationally and showcase talent from around the world, MLB and MLPA presented the 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series–five sold-out exhibition goodwill baseball games between the U.S. Major League Baseball All-Stars and the Chinese Taipei national team in three different cities in the Republic of China including XinZhuang Stadium in New Taipei City, Inter-continental Stadium in Taichung, and Cheng-Ching Lake Stadium in Kaohsiung. Although the MLB All-Stars were victorious in all of the match ups, the Chinese Taipei national team kept the MLB All-Stars in check and were resilient throughout the games. The Chinese Taipei national team players flashed their speed offensively on the bases and their prowess defensively on the field, striving to be competitive with baseball’s premier league’s elite in all five contests. At the press conference following the conclusion of the five-game series, MLB All-Star Manager and 2010 World Series Champion San Francisco skipper Bruce Bochy praised the Chinese Taipei national team: “It could have gone either way,” said Bochy. “Sure, we won five games, but you could see their confidence growing and they were playing right there with us. It’s good for baseball and for Taiwan. A lot of these are young players playing against the best players in the world, and they were fighting hard. It was a great experience for all of us. We’ve had a great time.”
Based on the public address announcer’s banter and ongoing never give up attitude late into the games, the reactive and enthusiastic crowd’s non-stop chanting and thunder stick thumping, and the live band’s nonstop horn playing and drumming, the real winner of the Taiwan All-Star Series were the baseball fans who wholeheartedly appreciated the games and adorned both teams’ players. The highly successful Taiwan All-Star Series prominently displayed two of Asia’s finest active MLB All-Star pitchers donning their native Chinese Taipei home team uniform–Washington Nationals Chien-Ming Wang and Detroit Tigers lefty reliever Ni Fu-Te. Following his starting pitching performance in the series finale at Cheng-Ching Lake Stadium in Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s pride and joy baseball–Chien-Ming Wang received a bone-chilling standing ovation from his fellow countrymen and teammates. Having pitched for Chinese Taipei in the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Baseball Classic, the left-hand throwing Fu-Te Ni became a fan favorite in the Chinese Professional Baseball League. Detroit Tiger pitcher Ni Fu-Te started in game four against the MLB All-Stars and fared very well facing his big league foes, only allowing two hits and one earned run in 3 1/3 innings pitched. Missing in action was Taiwanese-born MLB Los Angeles Dodgers Hong-Chih Kuo, who was expected to pitch for the Chinese Taipei national team but instead upon the recommendation of his team doctor skipped the 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series to undergo surgery on his left elbow. With its wealth of talented baseball players, Taiwan is a breeding ground for tomorrow’s MLB All-Stars. Smiling with an ear-to-ear grin, MLB Asia vice president Jim Small looks at the big picture when commenting on the success of the 2011 Taiwan All-Stars Series: “We would love to come back to Taiwan, especially when you see the reception we’ve gotten. I think there’s no doubt that we’ll be back here again.”
Perhaps the highlight of the 2011 Taiwan All-Stars Series was what took place before the international competition began. Although rain would not only delay but cut game one of the five-game series short, the sold-out New Taipei City XinZhuang Stadium crowd’s spirits were not dampened and relished in the sheer excitement which brought together two distinctly different countries and cultures. After the United States and the People’s Republic of China national anthems were played, the international delegation which included Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou was introduced. President Ma threw out the ceremonial first-pitch and welcomed the visiting MLB All-Stars to Taiwan. He encouraged friendly competition among the players and fans for the common love of the game. President Ma also presented a trophy to MLB Washington Nationals pitcher Chien-Ming Wang for his invaluable contribution to the international sport of baseball. With a newly signed one-year four-million dollar deal for the 2012 season with the Nationals, the sky is the limit for Wang’s impact on professional baseball worldwide. If there is ever to be a Yao Ming of baseball, it’s Chien-Ming Wang, the former New York Yankees ace and MLB.com 2006 Starting Pitcher of the Year. Orchestrating the media circus that surrounded the 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series, MLB Asia’s Jim Small explained why Wang is a big deal: “You can see the fervor that surrounds him. I’ve spent a lot of time here, and he’s the first Taiwanese global superstar. Not just baseball. Not just sports. He’s made Taiwan famous in the U.S. and around the world. Part of it is that he’s a great pitcher and he has two 19-win seasons. That’s obvious. But it’s more than that. He’s a physically imposing guy. He’s so big and so special. That adds to it as well. It creates an aura about him.” As Bob Marley sang, “there’s a natural mystic flowing through the air” and Chien-Ming Wang certainly is a major player in baseball’s bright future in Asia. With continued cooperation and mutual understanding between China and the U.S., it is just a matter of time before a whole new generation of professional players and fans sprout from the seeds of mutual respect and cultural awareness.
It may be a case of divine intervention to help the young and talented Chinese Taipei national team after suffering three consecutive to Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Stars in the five-game 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series. Enter Taiwanese-born Fu-Te Ni–often referred to by Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) fans as “Tu Di Gong” or “Fu Teh Cheng Shen” because his given name is the same as the formal name for the Chinese God of the Land–taking the mound Saturday, November 5th at Kaohsiung’s Cheng-Ching Lake Stadium to the delight of mortal and deity beings everywhere and restoring balance in these seemingly lopsided exhibition games.
Having pitched for Chinese Taipei in the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Baseball Classic, the lefty Fu-Te Ni soon became a fan favorite in the Chinese Professional Baseball League. In 2009 Ni signed a minor league contract with the Toledo Mud Hens, the Triple-A affiliate for the Detroit Tigers. It didn’t take long for Ni to be the first player to transition from the CPBL to MLB when he was called up by the Tigers in June 2009, becoming the sixth Taiwanese player to enter the big leagues.
Ni made his major league debut on June 29, 2009 in relief of Rick Porcello against the Oakland A’s. His first major league match up was no small feat as the once famous Moneyball all-star who got away, Jason Giambi stood sixty feet away. Ni would strike out the left-hand hitting slugger and two other batters in 1.2 innings of relief. Mixing a four-seam fastball with a change-up and slider, Fu-Te Ni kept the hitters off-balance. Offering no free passes to first base with precision pitch control, Ni threw 21 of his 27 pitches for strikes. Later Tigers manager Jim Leyland commented, “He’s not afraid. That’s what I like about him. He’s got a little hitch of giddy-up.” In his first season with Detroit, Fu-Te Ni put away some of MLB’s best including Grady Sizemore, Asdrubal Cabrera, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Nick Markakis, Luke Scott, Adam Jones and Aubrey Huff. Opponents batted just .187 against Ni, and he became a reliable left-hander out of the Tigers bullpen. Most impressive, however, was his American League relievers-leading 8.6 percent of inherited runners to score statistic(3-35).
In 2010 hitters began to take advantage of Ni’s troubles in hitting the low-end of the strike zone and locating the breaking ball against left-handed hitters, resulting in a catapulting .290 batting average against the left-hand throwing hurler. He struck out 22 batters over 23 innings, but also gave up 19 walks before being sent down to Triple-A Toledo. Although he had participated in the 2011 Tigers Spring Training Camp, Ni split his time as a starter and reliever in the International League, where he started 12 games and posted a 6-3 record with a 3.24 ERA. In 111 innings pitched, Ni struck out 93 and walked 34.
Equipped with renewed confidence and control of his pitches, Chinese Taipei’s Fu-Te Ni is ready to redeem himself in the eyes of the MLB skeptics in the Taiwan All-Stars Series. Of all the players on the MLB All-Stars roster, only the recently awarded 2011 Silver Slugger winner New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano and 2011 Rawlings Gold Glove recipient Los Angeles Angels of Angels Shortstop Erick Aybar have faced Ni in Major League action. As a former 2009 Detroit Tigers teammate of MLB All-Star Curtis Granderson–who was crowned “American League Outstanding Player” in the 2011 Players Choice Awards and also recipient of a 2011 Silver Slugger Award, Fu-Te Ni held Cano hitless. In 2010 Aybar did not fare any better as he struck out in his only at bat against Ni. The writing is on the wall and in the sky for the Chinese God of the Land that “Tu Di Gong” is back with a vengeance to earn his Chinese Taipei national team their first victory against his fellow MLB All-Stars.