NEARLY two years after he retired from baseball, left-hander Bruce Chen is getting ready to pitch for China at the 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 the team from 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 had hired him as a cultural development coordinator and supported his decision to get back on the mound. Chen’s main worry was how his decision would be received. His grandparents were born in China, but he grew up 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. I’m excited to get to honor my grandparents.”
Chen is taking several members of his family to Tokyo, where China will play its opening games at the WBC. His 13-year-old daughter is learning the language 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. When no one else sought 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 players transition from their countries to life in the major leagues. Chen had no thought of playing again until the team from China reached out to him.
He lives in Arizona and started throwing in January. But the pitcher is nervous about how he’ll perform after such a long layoff.