Left field

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Its baseball star fallen, Taiwan scopes alternatives

October 21, 2009

rtr26txvA chain of injuries suffered by New York Yankees star Wang Chien-ming is pushing a pair of more obscure Taiwan-born U.S. Major League Baseball pitchers into the limelight as dejected fans grudgingly seek alternatives.

Fans in baseball-crazy Taiwan, though far from giving up on Wang, say they are looking harder at Ni Fu-te and Kuo Hong-chih. But unlike Wang, a starting pitcher responsible for winning games, the other two are relief pitchers and neither is quite a superhero.

Wang, so famous in Taiwan that his jersey number, 40, is synonymous with his name, before 2008 was a league sensation whose sinker balls had earned him a 54-23 career win-loss record and a line-up of product sponsorships in Taiwan. Wang sat out much of the past two seasons.

“To say that Wang Chien-ming will be replaced by these other two because he was injured, I wouldn’t go that far, but Taiwan’s Yankees viewership has been affected,” said Kang Cheng-nan, a physical education teacher at National Taiwan University.¬†”The other two need to be monitored for longer, but if they do well, fans will watch.”

Marginalised by giant economic powerhouse China, which claims sovereignty over the small, self-ruled Taiwan, the west Pacific island looks to its heroes for international recognition or for a sign that it can do something right overseas.

rtxp6s6One of the alternative Taiwan-born players, left-hander Ni of the Detroit Tigers¬† was described by the Major League Baseball website as a “valuable piece” of the team’s relief pitching staff since he debuted in June. Ni, 26, ended the 2009 season, his first in the U.S. major leagues, with a respectable earned run average (ERA) of 2.61, sparking Taiwan’s celeb-obsessed media to mention his name.

Kuo, 28, of the Los Angeles Dodgers has a reputation for staying in play after five seasons despite four shoulder operations. He finished the 2009 season with a solid ERA of 3.0, and his name has appeared in commercials in Taiwan.

When either appears on TV, and Kuo’s team is in the Major League Baseball post-season playoffs, Taiwan fans watch. “I personally think no one can replace Wang, and I hope he can come back,” said Yang Chi-hsiang, a second-year university student and softball player in Taipei. “But the other two are Taiwan players, so we’ll support them.”

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