Hu's On Second
by Jonathan Zeller, 05/11/2011
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New York Mets shortstop José Reyes hails from the Dominican Republic. Third baseman David Wright grew up in Virginia. Outfielder Carlos Beltran comes from Puerto Rico (he's even a co-owner of the popular restaurant Sofrito). The team's diverse roster also includes players from Venezuela, Japan and beyond.
Among this international cast of characters, though, only one Met can claim to be his nation's all-time home-run king: recent acquisition Chin-Lung Hu, the mightiest major-league slugger in Taiwan's history. So far in his career, the reserve middle infielder has clubbed two homers. That's one ahead of Dodgers pitcher Hong-Chih Kuo…and just 760 behind Barry Bonds.
Hu, as of press time, is also Taiwan's major-league leader in runs batted in, stolen bases and virtually every other offensive statistic. This is a testament to his talents, to be sure, but it illustrates a situation he'd like to change. Put simply, he says, "There are not too many Taiwanese players right now."
On a sunny April afternoon in the Mets' dugout shortly after infield practice—during which he demonstrated the sure hands that have earned him a reputation as a defensive specialist—Hu expressed a desire to grow baseball's popularity among his countrymen. He could hardly pick a better place to fulfill that mission than Flushing, Queens—site of the Mets' ballpark, Citi Field.
Flushing is where you'll find Queens' Chinatown, home to many of the borough's 15,000 Taiwanese immigrants. Hu says it feels much like his hometown of Tainan City. "There are a lot of good restaurants," he says. "Dumpling places, dim sum places; I love that stuff."
He already has a favorite neighborhood eatery: "Hai Zhi Wei," or 66 Lu's Seafood, a welcoming spot known for authentic Taiwanese dishes like oyster pancakes and pork chops over rice.
The New York lifestyle, too—much busier than Los Angeles, where he played with the Dodgers—agrees with Hu. "It's very fast," he says, "When I'm back in Taipei, it's the same. A lot of people in a small place. I enjoy that."
While Hu's only been in the City briefly, he's doing his best to explore. Like many New Yorkers, he's fond of the architecture at rail hub Grand Central Terminal. "It's beautiful there," he says. He's also been to Manhattan's Chinatown and sampled some of the borough's Japanese food. He makes his home in Long Island City and hopes to head for Central Park on an off day. "I've passed by, but I've never been inside," he laments. "I would like to try and walk around."
On the field, while his early batting numbers have not been gaudy, Hu has played smooth defense and chipped in with situational hitting and baserunning. In the week after he spoke with us, Chin-Lung drove in a key run against the Phillies with a sacrifice fly and stole a base as a pinch runner. In the field, he finished his first month without committing an error. And he's noticed the support in the stands: "A lot of people come to watch the games, a lot of Taiwanese people."
Hu may be new to the City, but we can tell that he is going to fit in. He's already absorbed at least one key element of the New York lifestyle—our municipality's wry sense of humor. Asked if he's experienced a celebrity sighting yet, he did not opt for a simple "no."
"One time," he deadpanned, "I saw David Wright."
Taiwan Heritage Day at Citi Field is September 12. The Mets also have games remaining against the Los Angeles Dodgers—featuring Hong-Chih Kuo—July 4–7, but those contests are on the road.