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Chen's high flying career
Taiwanese hitter takes on the world
05/18/2019 11:20 PM ET
 (Ryan Schembri/SMP Images/ABL Media)

When the Little Airplane, Kuan-Jen Chen, flew into Adelaide he had just spent a season in America.

Already in his 30s it was the first time he had played abroad from his native Taiwan and at an age where many players would retire, playing in the ABL would have been a daunting prospect.

From Taiwan's more rural southern end, Chen and his family moved to Taipei when he was young and with the formation of their national league the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) new pathways opened up for aspiring athletes.

Chen burst onto the scene in 2006 as the CPBL rookie of the year and batting champion - ahead of future Bite teammate Chang Tai-Shan - although even at that stage he battled many personal demons.

Doubts over his ability always lingered, although in 10 CPBL seasons he hit below .300 just twice and after 774 games held a career .331 average and 923 hits.

But as a career with Brother Elephants came to a close, and putting down the bat for good could have been an option, Chen wanted to challenge himself.

He knew the Asian style of hitting; practising hundreds of swings every day and basing your routine on repetition. He wanted more, though.

The Little Airplane went to the United States of America.

"It's very important that in 2016 I went to America," he explained.

"That was my first time outside of the country and I went with no translator, no family, but I wanted to do that; I wanted to play baseball with the Americans.

"Of course I didn't play well but I learned the American style, the American routine."

At 34-years-old he played one season with Southern Maryland in the Atlantic League and the trip was a defining moment.

It was a challenge and also an opportunity to better himself as an individual and a team player.

"Everyone is very important in baseball," Chen said.

"You make sure you're ready and cheer for your teammates. It's Important to not just care about the result because no one can win every day so you support each other.

"Even me, I had some bad base running in the Atlantic League.

"I swung with a runner on first base, one out, but I popped out and was very upset, sad and angry at myself. I didn't even try to run.

"But my dugout and whole team told me to run, to hustle.

"My foot was stuck because I only cared about my result."

Moments like that taught him to look at the game differently. Working alongside batting specialist Jack Mankin, Chen also adopted the mechanics of a rotational baseball swing.

"People think I changed for a home run swing but I went for something more natural," he explained.

"That's where the rotation swing, like a circle, like golf, you use your whole body.

"That's why we squat when training. You follow through when you swing.

"I can take the good stuff, mix and now I can hit a home run, get good contact, because Jack talked about great hitting."

Adelaide supporters witness Chen's unique style; the Taiwanese veteran would go low on many swings, often kneeling.

By far the biggest obstacle of the past three years has been the solo travel. Chen left behind a young family and when he first signed his American contract he discovered his father was also battling cancer.

"When I play professionally I don't have much time with my family," he said.

"My dad had a very big surgery in 2016 before I went to America, just as I had signed the contract. After I signed he told me he had to go into surgery to remove cancer.

"I was lucky my family came here for Chinese New Year this year because I know she supports me while she works hard to take care of our two kids.

"They have loved Adelaide; going to the beach, Hahndorf, Rundle Mall, they enjoyed it and that's why I wanted them to experience Australia."

After two seasons in Adelaide the city has become a second home and when a rival ABL team approached him with a contract the choice to stay was easy.

"Brisbane reached out to me and offered me contract with them but I said no.

"That's why I came here a second time because I like living here.

"It's more like Taiwan south with the best beaches. Here feels like home where I can fish and go to the beach, the city… everyone enjoys sport, baseball and good weather."

The 37-year-old is now considering his future options.

Coaching is something he would love to explore further, particularly in Taiwan where he can show the next generation how to challenge them even more.

"For some young players the answer is just 'yes' or 'okay coach' but I want them to communicate more; I want to help not just get them to follow me," he said.

"Sometimes a coach is wrong. A good coach told me when you try to teach the player you have to think and always evolve.

"I want to help them and push them to believe in themselves, to run and hustle.

"When you practise and do the same thing again you are comfortable when you play the game because you already know how to do it.

"You have to be careful you don't repeat too much because we are human. A good routine needs changing up, and the very best players have a routine where they work hard consistently."

This story was not subject to the approval of the Australian Baseball League or its clubs.