Hard-Hittin' Chen Adapting to American Soil

APPLETON, Wisc. - The locker room door opens and out walks Yung-Chi Chen, the promising infielder for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. A big smile on his face, Chen says hello and promises to try his best with the interview. The Taiwan native is in the first month of his second season in the United States and his translator recently left for Arizona to help other prospects adapt to their new surroundings.

Now Chen is on his own with the task of learning to communicate with his teammates, coaches and the media. With some help from teammate Mark Lowe, the interview went fairly well as Chen tried his best to answer all of the questions.

One of my first questions for Chen was what some of his goals are for the 2005 season. And his immediate response was to help the Timber Rattlers win. While Chen seems very down to earth, it was still impressive to hear that response, coming from an emerging star on a very talented Wisconsin team.

You would never guess that this friendly and very young looking ballplayer was a very big star in his native Taiwan. Chen was a very successful player in college, leading the National College of Physical Education and Sports in Taoyuan, Taiwan to their first ever Taiwan All-College Championship Crown. And he was also a member of the Chinese Taipei national team that participated in the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

Like many other foreign players signed to pro contracts, Chen did not receive the hype many American players do, despite his impressive resume. But it has not taken Chen long to draw the crowds. In fact, everyone seems to be drawn by his friendly demeanor and impressive ability.

"Back home in Taiwan he's a big name and he's developing into that here now," said Lowe. "Everyone comes out to see Chen."

Chen is also growing a following on the road as well, attracting the attention of many Taiwanese people living in the U.S.

"Pretty much everywhere we went he had fan support there," said Timber Rattlers' outfielder Brent Johnson. "I remember last year at Everett, when we went to Eugene (Oregon) there was a bunch of students that went to University of Oregon that had signs with pictures of the Taiwanese baseball team and Chen."

It's not a given that foreign players will be able to repeat their success from overseason in the U.S., but since coming to the Mariners' organization Chen has been nothing short of remarkable. He has developed into a solid hitter and a human-highlight reel in the field.

"He's lived up to all the accolades that he set over there," said manager Scott Steinmann, referring to Chen's native land. "And he's done it here in professional ball."

He excelled last season in Arizona and Everett. With the AquaSox, he batted .300 and led the Northwest League with 25 steals. This season has been a continuation of that success, as he is among the league leaders in several hitting statistics. As of April 22, Chen was batting .322 with 14 RBI and 19 hits.

Along with that, Chen has proven himself as one of the Rattlers most versatile infielders. Because of his athletic ability and very strong arm, he has been seeing time at second and third base.

Socially, Chen is adapting very well to his new surroundings. His light-hearted and laid back personality has helped him become a very popular player in the locker room. And his communication skills continue to improve on a daily basis as he becomes more comfortable.

"He knows enough English to joke around with us and have a good time," said Lowe. "He kind of just does his own thing and he gets along with everyone really well. Everyone really likes him."

"The way he is off the field, he's always laughing. You never see him down," said Johnson. "He's always happy and likes to have fun."

When you have the talent that Yung-Chi Chen possesses, it's easy to have fun. Every day he steps foot on the field.

Jeff Harrison appreciates your feedback at Jeffrey.E.Harrison@gmail.com.

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