One of Eli Silverman’s first real glimpses into the mind of Shih-Tsung Wang came last Tuesday in a nonleague home contest against the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks.
Silverman, the Peninsula Oilers hitting coach, was manning the first base coaching box in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded, and Wang came up to bat.
It didn’t take long for the 6-foot-2 outfielder to deliver the walk-off grounder needed, and it took less time for Silverman to realize how deeply rooted Wang’s passion for the game is.
“He turned around and just let out this primal scream,” Silverman said. “I thought he was gonna attack me, but I realized the other players were charging him from the dugout.”
Wang and his fellow countryman, Yi-Hsin Huang, are spending the summer in Alaska playing for the Oilers, and make up an infusion of Asian talent that has helped raise the summer baseball squad to contender status.
Competing 4,650 miles from home, Wang and Huang are school friends and teammates at National Taiwan Sport University in Guishan District, Taoyuan City. Both have spent about 10 years in the sport, and neither of them speak a lick of English.
Teammate Jared Huber, who is rooming with them in the home of billet parent Jennifer Joanis, said their attitude and confidence levels seem to be the key to their success.
“You can tell they’re so thankful and they appreciate the game a lot more than any of us do, honestly,” Huber said. “They just love it over here.”
Huang and Wang use the Google translate feature on their mobile phones to communicate with teammates and the coaching staff, but apart from that, the large majority of communication is done with simple gestures.
“We go by phone or (by) gesturing,” Wang said in a translated message. “The signals are universal.”
A catcher out of Texas State University, Huber said words aren’t necessary to make a point between Huang, Wang and the rest of the Oilers lineup. Besides, the sport of baseball is pretty universal.
“If you really need to get their attention, you just start yelling at them and they get it,” Huber quipped.
“He doesn’t have to speak his language to get his point across,” Silverman added.
Oilers head coach Brian Daly said the team has given the duo a warm reception since day one.
“They’ve been big for us,” Daly said. “They have the right attitude.”
After a longtime relationship between the Alaska Baseball League and a foreign brokerage firm soured, the Oilers stopped seeing players from outside the country.
But Daly said with his arrival in Kenai last summer, along with fellow Champaign, Illinois, native Silverman, the mediator that works to connect ABL teams with foreign talent revitalized the American-Taiwanese relationship.
“It’s awesome having those two,” Daly said.
Huang is a right-handed pitcher, and was credited with the win on the mound in the walk-off victory against Fairbanks. It was a one-two punch by Wang and Huang that gave the Oilers a well-earned win, which broke a two-game losing streak.
Daly, a pitching coach, said Huang brings his own style to the game, citing his command of four pitches that have stymied the opposition. Those throws include his fastball, slider, curveball and a breaking changeup that can be especially deadly.
“It’s a great change of pace from the other arms we have,” Daly said. “He keeps hitters off-balance, and he’ll probably fall into a setup or closer role for us.”
Huang currently sports a 3.68 ERA with one save and a 2-0 record, impressive as he’s only been a closer for the Oilers to this point in the summer season.
“He’s got pinpoint control,” Daly said.
Silverman said Wang’s ability behind the plate belies that of his young age, and his game-winning swing against the Panners proved to Silverman that Wang is here to help his team win games.
“When those situations arise that are split-second decisions, he’s been infallible in making the correct decisions,” Silverman said. “That’s something you don’t see much these days, honestly.”
In the postgame mob scene that played out on the field after the exciting win over the Panners, Wang’s enthusiasm was on display with a whoop and a holler.
“It was a really, really exciting moment,” Wang said. “(With the) nervousness, I kept telling myself I can do it for my team to win, which is more important.”
Before the climax, Wang had also stolen three bases.
“If you pay attention to him on the bases, he’s so excited,” Silverman added. “He’s like a kid with a new toy.”
As of Friday, Wang also led the Oilers with four RBIs, and leads the team in extra-base hits. He currently has three of the Oilers’ 12, including a pair of triples in six games he has started.
Just three nights later, Wang pulled off a potential game-winning hit again, sending home the go-ahead run on a double in extra innings against the Anchorage Glacier Pilots on Friday night. The game was suspended in the 12th inning due to the field sprinkler system kicking in, but the Oilers will be trying to finish off the game at a later date with a 3-1 lead. Wang then went on to score an impressive insurance run from second base on a ground-out by Cameron Miller.
Huang said his travels to Alaska are the realization of living out his dreams.
“(I wanted) to learn from a different experience,” Huang said.
“(I) wanted to see a different world and feel of baseball,” Wang added.
In a sport like baseball, the differences between the Taiwan and USA games can be marginal, but as a player on the field, Wang said it’s noticeable.
“Here the game is very different,” Wang said. “In Taiwan, the pitcher is (in) a fastball duel.
“U.S. baseball is different because Japanese baseball passes over Taiwan, so (it’s) different from the culture.”