Former U.S. major leaguer and national sports hero, Chen Chin-feng, has tentatively agreed to enter the upcoming Taiwan baseball draft being held on December 26 and might play pro baseball in Taiwan for the 2006 season.
If things go according to plan, Chen will be selected by the Kaohsiung-based La New Bears, the team that holds the first draft pick after finishing last place among the local Chinese Professional Baseball League this season.
The former LA Dodger was in Taipei yesterday to give training lessons to little leaguers, and also presenting baseball gloves and other equipment as Christmas gifts to an elementary school team from Chu-Ling, Yilan County at a charity event organized by MasterCard International.
Chen told the press that he had held talks earlier this week with La New top executives, who had been pulling out all the stops to convince the 6'1" slugger to return home and help to improve Taiwan baseball with his seven years of U.S. experience, mostly in the Dodgers farm system.
It had been reported the La New club has offered a deal worth NT$6 million yearly (NT$500,000 per month) to match with the highest salary in CPBL history (the same figure held by star pitcher Kuo Yuan-chi who returned from a successful stint with Japan's Chunichi Dragons to play for the President Lions in 1997).
With his hardworking and clean-cut image, and his leadership role with the Taiwan national team during past medal successes, Chen will certainly become the marquee player in the Taiwan circuit and will have many sponsorship opportunities, beginning with MasterCard International.
No longer shy in front of the press, the Tainan County-native seemed relaxed and in a jovial mood during the media interview yesterday.
Looking back at his breakthrough to become the first Taiwanese native to play in major league baseball (debuted in the MLB with the Dodgers on September 14, 2002, but only used sparingly by the team), Chen said he had achieved his goals and had no regrets.
"Now I am at the peak of my playing career... Maybe it is time to play in Taiwan, and stay close to my family. I am more mature and have learned a lot from my stay in the U.S.," he said.
Dream never dies
But his Major League dream may not be finished. Chen said he will make his final decision this week after consulting with his parents and family members, "My family comes first, I will respect their opinion."
In giving advice to young players, Taiwan's first major leaguer told them, "It is important to set your goals and work hard to improve your game, and chase your dream if you want to play in the U.S."
Chen indicated that his agent is still at work to hook up with other American ball clubs, and he might head to the U.S. for spring training early next year.
It has been reported in the local press that if selected as the first pick in the CPBL draft next week, Chen might ask for a clause with the La New Bears in freeing him to go to U.S. if there are MLB teams showing interest to sign him next year.
Under CPBL rule, draftees have three months to sign a contract with their teams, or they can become available in the next players draft. Chen could still go to the U.S. for spring training tryouts with MLB teams, and if it does not work out, he can return to Taiwan by the March 26 deadline, and sign a contract to play for the La New Bears for the 2006 season.