Its baseball star fallen, Taiwan scopes alternatives
A 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.
One 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.”