GENEVA – Jen-Ho Tseng boasted a working resume of international baseball experience entering his professional debut Tuesday.
Sure, that amounted to one inning for Chinese Taipei in the 2013 World Baseball Classic and a stint in the Asian Championship in December, but that’s still pretty hefty considering Tseng is 19.
Cougars pitching coach David Rosario piggybacked on that point before Tseng strode to the Fifth Third Bank Ballpark mound for the club’s home opener against Fort Wayne. Rosario knew the Taiwanese right-hander was what brought some of the parent Cubs’ brass to an eventual 4-3 win in 12 innings.
“This is a kid that is coming all the way from Taiwan and high school to pitch in front of a crowd,” Rosario said. “It’s another element that they have never been at, so let’s see how they handle that.”
Tseng responded admirably en route to a no-decision, spacing three runs, eight hits and five strikeouts while walking none in five innings. The first two hitters he faced singled with two strikes; he settled in after that before Fort Wayne (1-4) struck for three runs in the fifth.
About two hours later, the Cougars (3-2) rallied for their first home-opening win since April 11, 2010. The TinCaps committed two of their five errors in the 12th, the last coming when Cougars third baseman Ben Carhart grounded to shortstop Franchy Cordero with the bases loaded and no outs.
Cordero’s throw attempting to nab Carlos Penalver at the plate sailed wide. The walkoff E-6 at last backed the bullpen relay of Gerardo Concepcion, Tyler Bremer and Zack Godley, who combined on seven innings of two-hit relief.
“We had just one bad inning where they came out and hit a few balls good on us. Our bullpen shut the door and gave us a chance to win,” Cougars catcher Will Remillard said. “We played as many innings as we needed to until we scored a run, and they allowed us to do that.”
Manager Mark Johnson hailed the bullpen as well as Tseng, calling his stuff “electric.” Tseng developed a cut on his right thumb in the fourth, but the fifth was going to be his last inning, anyway.
Tseng’s translator is his countryman, Fox Sung, a former journalist who travels with the Cougars and can accompany coaches on mound visits. Sung came to the United States in 2008 and landed his first baseball translating job a year later, assisting Taiwanese Detroit Tigers left-hander Fu-Te Ni.
Already bestowed a nickname, “Foxy,” Sung himself has accomplished one of the first steps of clubhouse assimilation.
While the Cougars followed the pregame protocol of largely letting that day’s starting pitcher be, Rosario sees the potential for Tseng to enjoy more natural interaction as the season progresses. Tseng, who received a $1.625 million signing bonus in August, already has taken steps to learn basic English, and Rosario calls him “a pretty smart kid.”
A little more than two decades ago, TinCaps pitching coach Burt Hooton, a former Cubs right-hander, worked with South Korean product Chan-Ho Park in the Dodgers organization. Park entered the system with extremely limited command of the language but soon learned.
“You just have to spend a little time with them and make sure they understand what you’re talking about,” Hooton said. “And understand what they’re talking about.”
The teams will continue their series at noon today, as players again spread the “Wake & Rake” rhetoric of day games after night games.
“It’s not going to be easy, but it’s what you’ve got to do,” Remillard said. “We’ll show up [today] ready to play, and hopefully we can win another ballgame.”
COUGARS SHORT HOPS
Cougars (RHP Paul Blackburn, 0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. TinCaps (RHP Adrian De Horta, 0-0, 11.57 ERA), noon today, AM-1280
Tuesday's crowd of 5,371 surpassed attendance at the 2013 home opener – 4,962.
Cubs celebrity watch
Among the Cubs officials on hand Tuesday were special assistant to the president/general manager Kyle Evans and assistant director of player development and international scouting Alex Suarez.
Suarez served as a panelist for a Cougars youth coaching clinic at Fifth Third Ballpark in February.
Hooton and hollering
TinCaps pitching coach Burt Hooton, 63, threw a no-hitter for the Cubs against the Phillies at Wrigley Field in April 1972, easily the crowning achievement of his 15-year career.
Although Hooton grinned and said, "It's ancient history," there were no doubt many Cubs fans in the crowd who still hail the feat.
Fort Wayne manager Michael Collins, 29, isn't quite as steeped on Hooton's history as a native of Australia. He happily crammed during the parent San Diego Padres' spring training.
"Of course, it's spring training. All those guys are telling stories about their days," Collins said. "And I just sat there and listened to everything he had to say."
– Kevin Druley, firstname.lastname@example.org