Re­turn to mound

Ex-ma­jor lea­guer Chen ‘ex­cited’ to pitch for Team China

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

Nearly two years af­ter he re­tired from base­ball, lefthander Bruce Chen is get­ting ready to pitch for Team China in next month’s World Base­ball Clas­sic.

The 39-year-old Chen re­tired af­ter the Cleve­land In­di­ans des­ig­nated him for as­sign­ment on May 15, 2015, and none of the other teams claimed him off waivers.

When Team China reached out to him late last year, Chen won­dered if it was look­ing for a pitch­ing coach.

“Two days later, they told me they wanted me to pitch,” Chen said on Wed­nes­day.

The In­di­ans, who hired him as a cul­tural de­vel­op­ment co­or­di­na­tor, sup­ported his de­ci­sion to re­turn to the mound.

Chen’s main worry was how his de­ci­sion would be re­ceived. His grand­par­ents were born in China, but he was born and raised in Panama and pitched on its team in 2006 and 2009.

“I was afraid peo­ple in Panama wouldn’t like it, but when the news broke, peo­ple were ex­cited,” Chen said. “I’m ex­cited to get to honor my grand­par­ents.”

Chen is tak­ing sev­eral mem­bers of his fam­ily with him to Tokyo, where China opens against Cuba in pool B of the WBC on March 8.

His 13-year-old daugh­ter is learn­ing to speak Chi­nese in school and will serve as his trans­la­tor with team­mates.

Chen pitched in the ma­jors for 17 years, go­ing 82-81 with a 4.68 ERA. He played for the Braves, Phillies, Mets, Ex­pos, Reds, Astros, Red Sox, Ori­oles, Rangers, Roy­als and In­di­ans.

He started two games for Cleve­land in 2015 and went 0-1, giv­ing up nine runs in 6 1/3 in­nings. When no other team wanted him, he de­cided it was time to move on.

“I wasn’t like Mar­i­ano Rivera, who an­nounced his re­tire­ment at the start of the year,” Chen said. “I didn’t know when my last game was go­ing to be, but I was fine with re­tire­ment.”

The In­di­ans hired him to help for­eign play­ers tran­si­tion from their coun­tries to life in the ma­jor leagues.

Chen had no thought of play­ing again un­til Team China reached out to him.

He lives in Ari­zona and started throw­ing in Jan­uary. He’s ner­vous about how he’ ll per­form af­ter such a long lay­off.

“I have been through spring train­ing 17 years, but I was ner­vous in front of the play­ers,” Chen said.

“It’s the com­pet­i­tive na­ture. You know you are around the best play­ers in the world. You don’t want to look like you don’t be­long there.”

Once he started throw­ing, Chen re­al­ized how much he missed com­pet­ing.

“It’s a feel­ing like no other,” he said. “You can’t repli­cate it. It’s a feel­ing I haven’t felt in two years. Even though I haven’t faced any hit­ters yet, I can feel it. I know once I get on the mound in the Tokyo Dome, I’m go­ing to get that feel­ing.”

Mean­while, the In­di­ans signed left-han­der James Rus­sell to a mi­nor-league deal and have in­vited him to camp.

The 31-year-old pitcher has played for the Cubs, Braves and Phillies over seven sea­sons.

He ap­peared in seven games for Philadel­phia last sea­son and gave up nine runs in 4 1/3 in­nings.

FILE

Bruce Chen, who pitched for 17 years in Ma­jor League Base­ball, has joined Team China for the up­com­ing World Base­ball Clas­sic.

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