Currently nursing a 17.61 ERA that includes 15 earned runs off 19 hits (five of which were home runs) and five walks, the Milwaukee Brewers have kept the use of reliever Wei-Chung Wang to a minimum so far this season. Almost two months into the 22-year-old Taiwanese hurler’s rookie year, Wang has appeared in just six of Milwaukee’s 47 games, totaling 7.2 low-risk innings of work. Whether or not Wang takes the mound, his translator Jen-Chieh “Jay” Hsu is always working, serving as the linguistic intermediary between the foreign pitcher and his new team. Like the player for whom he communicates, Hsu also made the rapid jump from rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League to the big league over the winter. He, too, is learning to adapt to a strange new place, and he’s dealing with the entirely uncertain fate Rule 5 draft selections face on an almost pitch-by-pitch basis.
Hsu was born in Taiwan’s capital city of Taipei, where he spent the first 25 years of his life before moving to the United States to attend school at Missouri State in 2004. He graduated in the spring of 2011, having majored in Entertainment Management, with minors in Marketing and Music. A longtime baseball fan and former college intern for the Springfield Cardinals (double-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals), Hsu sought a job in Major League Baseball. At the suggestion of a friend who worked for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Hsu became an interpreter for the team and was assigned to be the translator for catcher Jin-De Jhang along with Wang, whom the Pirates signed prior to the 2012 season and sent—with Hsu—to the then-Gulf Coast League rookie affiliate in Bradenton, Florida.
Last December, Hsu received a phone call from Wang’s agent, informing him the pitcher was selected by the Brewers in the Rule 5 draft, and asking if he would request out of his contract with Pittsburgh and come to Milwaukee with Wang.
“I had already been with him two years. I kind of know everything about him,” Hsu says. “At that point I didn’t know what Rule 5 was.”
The Rule 5 draft occurs every offseason during Major League Baseball’s winter meetings. Basically, teams can purchase the rights to prospects like Wang, who aren’t on a team’s 40-man roster, for $50,000 on the condition he remains on that team’s Major League roster the entire season. If Wang doesn’t remain on the Brewers’ 25-man roster, the Pirates can reclaim him, and assign him to any minor league level.
On April 14, Wang (then 21 years old) became just the 11th Taiwanese player to play in a Major League Baseball game. Under Rule 5 stipulations, he must occupy a spot on the roster, though he pitched just 12 games in the lowest level of the minors before his multi-level promotion. As he has been since 2012, Hsu has remained with Wang every exciting and difficult step of the way.
“He definitely enjoys it,” Hsu says of Wang. Much like his longtime client and roommate, Hsu is also enjoying the big league lifestyle, along with the opportunity to be around players.
“When I’m in the bullpen, K-Rod, [Brandon] Kintzler, Will Smith, [Jim] Henderson, everybody treats me like I’m part of the bullpen too,” Hsu says. “They include me in everything.”
Hsu says veteran pitchers Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza have been especially great sources of advice, and they offer answers to any questions he (or he, asking on behalf of Wang) might have.
“[Lohse] shares experiences with Wang, and when I translate, I also learn those experiences. This is a big benefit for me,” Hsu says. “When I translate, I also learn. And when I talk to [Wang], it’s kind of from me. I need to totally understand what coaches mean, so I learn a lot of experiences from veterans and coaches while they talk to Wang.”
However, Hsu’s job responsibilities extend far beyond providing bullpen and on-field translations. He drives Wang places, helps him grocery shop and run other errands, helps maintain his schedule, and even orders for him at restaurants—all in an effort to ease the lefty’s American transition.
“Even if it’s a day off from a game, I’m still working,” Hsu says. “On the field is my main job, but off the field is my responsibility, too, since he doesn’t know the language or where to go.”
Between road trips and spending the majority of his days at the ballpark during homestands, Hsu hasn’t been able to explore Milwaukee much yet. He says he likes Miller Park’s retractable dome, and loves that the city is closer in size to Springfield, MO than it is to Taipei. In addition to baseball, he enjoys classical music (he played trumpet in the Taiwanese army marching band) and musicals. He also hopes to investigate the outdoors soon.
“One place I want to go is near the lake. I wish I could have time to ride a bike or walk along the lake. I love nature,” Hsu says.
However, Wang’s Rule 5 status makes it tough for Hsu to make plans of any kind. The interpreter’s city of employment depends exclusively upon what a 22-year-old man thrust into an unimaginably difficult situation can (or cannot) accomplish with a baseball. One scenario sees the pair staying in Milwaukee the entire season, and beyond. If that’s not the case, Hsu knows he needs to prepare for the very real possibility of reverting to Pirates’ property and calling either new rookie affiliate town Bristol, VA; Charleston, WV (low-A); Bradenton, FL (A-advanced); Altoona, PA (double-A); Indianapolis (triple-A); or Pittsburgh home indefinitely.
“I don’t know if or when I’ll be moving. Maybe tomorrow we’ll need to fly somewhere,” Hsu says. “The only thing I can do is do my best to help [Wang] out. Right now, my job is translator. I don’t want to miss a chance to be between a coach and him or a teammate and him. The only thing I can do to help him and myself out is to help him understand. If he’s here, then I’m here.”
Amid the looming geographic uncertainty, Hsu remains focused on the tasks at hand, and he is deeply gracious for his amazing and uncommon career that combines his affinity for baseball with his Taiwanese heritage.
“This is the dream job. It’s not secure, but right now I appreciate all the time I can stay here. As long as I can [stay], I’ll appreciate this opportunity.”