Despite being labeled “The Rookie” for his his small size dating back to his childhood living across the street from Panama’s Omar Torrijos Herrera Stadium, Mets shortstop Rubén Tejada has big league intelligence and baseball embedded in his DNA. The Santiago de Veraguas native wants victory for his country. Host Panama battles neighboring Colombia, Brazil, and Nicaragua in the upcoming World Baseball Classic Qualifier beginning November 15th at Panama City’s renovated Rod Carew Stadium. “The only reason we are here is to win and clinch a spot on the Classic,” Tejada said. “The main thing is move on to the Classic, and God willing, everything will go our way. I come with more experience, so hopefully everything will come out as planned.”The winners from the Panama and Taiwan qualifying pools will join Spain and Canada in the first round World Baseball Classic competition against Australia, China, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, United States and Venezuela March 7-10, 2013 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona and Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale. Proud to be representing his country again after showcasing his talent in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and having matured into an everyday player for the Mets, 23-year-old Rubén Tejada brings an innate understanding of the game which rivals that of a seasoned veteran or manager twice his age. However, his interpretation of the strike zone sometimes gets lost in translation. In young Rubén’s case, patience at the plate came with a price for the right-handed hitter, who until 2012 had struggled for playing time since making his MLB debut on April 7, 2010. With the strike zone in Panamanian youth leagues being bigger than it is in America, Tejada was trained to swing at pitches that would be called balls in the USA. With this international anomaly, he had
the tendency to swing early at-bat. At age 20, Tejada was the youngest position player on the Mets Opening Day roster since Tim Foli in 1971. Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens implemented a more disciplined approach to Tejada’s at-bats by making pitchers work. Since then, Rubén now works the count in search of his pitch. “He can hit,” said ex-Mets scout Ismael Cruz–who signed Tejada in 2006. “People don’t give him credit for hitting. He’s not flashy, he’s not making noise, but he’s a guy who can hit .270, .280. I’ll take that any day. And he’ll jack one every so often.” With a career-high 25 doubles, a .289 batting average and a .333 on-base percentage in 112 games played during the 2012 season, Rubén Tejada had a breakout year despite missing nearly six weeks in May and June with a strained groin muscle. Serving as the replacement for 2011 Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, who took the the $10 million bait lured by the 2012 Miami Marlins, Tejada proved to be worth his weight in gold–earning a fraction of Reyes’ salary ($491,000). Perhaps what was most impressive about Tejada in 2012 was his defense. The 5-foot-11 Panamanian made spectacular web gem worthy plays and ironically finished the season with six fewer errors than Jose Reyes. The two former teammates remain best of friends and workout buddies. After the WBC Qualifier, Tejada will return to a Garden City, Long Island, New York training facility for his annual post-season pilgrimage with MLB All-Star Reyes. For now the business at hand is in Panama. “I’m very happy to be here, especially to be healthy and ready to do all that is needed to help the team,” said Tejada. “First we will try to win our pass, then we will start thinking about the 2013 Classic.”
It’s been 40 years since Roberto Clemente joined MLB’s elite 3000 hit club on September 30, 1972 after hitting a double off Mets’ lefty Jon Matlack at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA. Just one year prior to dishing out Roberto Clemente’s monumental 3000th hit in 1972, the young Mets prospect and the seven other American players on the
San Juan Senadores Winter League team were personally invited to visit Clemente at his home in Puerto Rico. Currently working as a Houston Astros Minor League pitching coordinator, Matlack recalled when Clemente gathered everyone in his trophy room to talk baseball: “I thought that was pretty classy on his part. He was very personable, showed us his trophy room and memorabilia and spent
a lot of time talking about hitting. Every part of me
was awe-struck.”Matlack reminisced: “This bat was leaning in a corner. Somebody asked about hitting, and he picked up the bat to demonstrate. I remember thinking, ‘That’s a big bat,’ and
I asked about it. He said it had the maximum dimensions. He set it back down, and when everybody sort of moved on, I grabbed hold of it. I could barely pick it up. It led me to believe how strong this guy really was.” Clemente’s strength was tested when Matlack faced “The Great One” six times prior to their final reunion in the fourth inning on September 30, 1972. Clemente was hitless off him with one walk in previous matchups. Matlack’s strategy this at-bat was to avoid a mistake on the inner half, while hoping Clemente would take a quality strike on the outside corner. On a 2-2 pitch, the lefty spun a curveball on the outside.
Matlack said, “As it left my hand,
I was a little upset, because I realized this thing’s not going to make the strike zone. But he took that long stride, kept himself back and pulled it off the left-center-field wall for a double.” Matlack did not recognize what had happened until the second-base umpire, Doug Harvey, presented the ball to Clemente. Jim Fregosi, the Mets’ shortstop who retrieved it, remembered Clemente’s rather nonchalant reaction. He raised his helmet briefly to the fans. Fregosi said, “He was pretty cool about everything he did. That’s how he was.” Fregosi believed Clemente understood the importance of #3000.
At Coopers Stadium against the visiting Canberra Cavalry this past weekend, it was all about Chin-lung Hu–leadoff hitter and shortstop for the Adelaide Bite in the Australian Baseball League (ABL). Although there may have been a sour taste left in the mouths of Bite fans following Sunday’s 9-5 loss, one could not forget Hu’s team best 3-for-5 performance–including two runs batted in and one run scored. Never mind that Chin-lung Hu had been instrumental in the Bite’s victories the two prior nights against Canberra. Whether it be Saturday’s two-run triple in the bottom of the second inning which set up a 3-2 victory or Friday’s defensive excellence turning a pivotal double play late in the game with runners on the corners to stop the Calvary’s charge and seal up the win for Adelaide, Chin-lung Hu is now the ABL’s renaissance man.
Other than co-sharing his claim to fame for having MLB’s shortest last name in baseball history, Chin-lung Hu is best known (or rather unknown) as a bench player. Baseball fans today still ask the burning question: “Who is Hu?” Being in the shadow of 2011 MLB National League Batting Champion Mets shortstop Jose Reyes or playing back up to former Dodger and shortstop for the 2011 MLB World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals Rafael Furcal did not help his cause either. Chin-lung Hu appeared to always be at the wrong place at the wrong time and never got the time of day in the major leagues.
The Taiwanese-born Hu began his career in the Dodgers minor leagues in 2003 as a member of the Advance Rookie minor league Ogden Raptors. In 2004, he played for both the defunct Columbus Catfish and the Vero Beach Dodgers (now the Devil Rays). He remained in Vero Beach for the 2005 season and later moved on to the Jacksonville Suns in the Double-A Southern League. Things appeared to be progressing for Hu as the international baseball circle limelight shined on Hu for a brief period while a member of Chinese Taipei national team in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. Upon his return to America, he was promoted to the Triple-A Las Vegas 51’s and then later made his 2007 Major League Debut in a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform. Hu continued his elusive ways by playing hide-and-seek for another three years of multiple visits between Albuquerque with the Triple-A Isotopes and LA’s Chavez Ravine. Following the conclusion of the 2010 Dodgers season, Hu was traded to the New York Mets.
Enter the ABL to save Chin-lung Hu from international anonymity. Backed by Major League Baseball and the Australian Baseball Federation, the ABL is no stranger to world-class Asian baseball talent. In its inaugural season last year, the ABL hosted twelve Japanese players including big leaguers Itaru Hashimoto, Yoshiyuki Kamei and Norihito Kaneto with the Melbourne Aces, and Shuhei Fukuda and Hiroki Yamada with the Brisbane Bandits. Korean catcher Sung-Woo Jang, infielder Kyu-Hyun Moon and outfielder Seung-Hwa Lee thrilled fans while playing for the Canberra Cavalry. Perhaps most notable Korean player was Sydney Blue Sox pitcher Dae-Sung Koo, who won the League’s Reliever of the Year award after a brilliant season on the mound. With over three times as many players with Major League Baseball contracts participating than last season and a new influx of athletes from the world’s top baseball leagues, there has been vast improvement in the 2011-12 ABL level of play. Now is the time for Chin-lung Hu to step out of the darkness and into the light as an all-star starting shortstop for the ABL Adelaide Bite. Catch up on all the Australian Baseball League action at web.theabl.com.au