He is the fourth Taiwanese baseball player to play in Major League Baseball (MLB), and is even the first Taiwanese to hit a homerun in MLB. In the end of the 2018’s game season, he retired from the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL), yet his every move still has grabbed his fans’ attention. During his sporting career, Kuo underwent several operations and came back strongly again; therefore, he was nicknamed “the immortal phoenix”. So, exactly what kind of mindset does he harbor when facing with those setbacks? It is our honor to have him here for a talk, recounting his career as a baseball player and what the future holds for him.
▲Hong-Chih Kuo talks about how he confronted and overcame frustrations as a baseball player.
“Hello……everyone at Gamania.” His greeting made the audience burst out laughing. He is a boy-next-door who voices sincerely that people may forget about his legendary figure in MLB. Every sentence that came from him oozed his passion for baseball, and there weren’t any dull moments throughout the entire speech.
From Little League to MLB: the Beginning of Dreams
Q: Can you tell us how you started out in baseball?
I was quite a hyperactive child and didn’t like school work much. I often broke my neighbor’s windows with stones when I was little. My neighbor had a kid who went to Gongyuan Elementary School, which is a baseball specialty school. Adults told me, “If you are passionate about throwing stones, then why don’t you try baseball?” So that was my outset of joining the baseball team to start the baseball journey of no return (chuckling). My parents were quite glad, because they didn’t have to compensate for my misbehavior anymore, and besides, there will be a coach to discipline me. I have gradually become a good boy then.
Q: We understand that your great performance at Nan Ying Senior Commercial & Industrial Vocational School gave you the opportunity to join MLB. Could we ask a rather sensitive question, why did you choose to leave CPBL and join the Los Angeles Dodgers? It was quite a controversial decision and you should have received a lot of criticisms, didn’t you?
Well, there was a signing bonus (laughing). I talked to my parents, and they told me to do so right away if someone who wanted to sign me. Opportunity had presented itself. I told my coach and he also agreed, so I did it. However, I was surprised that I see my coach on television the next day, and he said, “I have no idea about his disappearance.”
At that time, I didn’t possess any knowledge about getting a diploma and dealing with the military service issues in advance. Though it is because of those experiences from us, people could have knowledge about those issues afterward.
Q: You were less than 18 years old then when facing the discrepancies between expectations and reality. Your family wasn’t around, and the training at the minor league was tough. Did all these situations make you feel frustrated? How did you adjust your mentality while being alone abroad?
The first six months were quite fun. It was like going abroad on a trip. Everything was new and fresh to me. It was until I realized that I couldn’t go home as much as I want and got injured that I started to feel a little bit frustrated.
At that time, I would drive for an hour to rent Chinese videos and returned them when I finished, and then drove back to return them. I would find my ways to relieve pressure.
Q: Following Chen Chin-Feng, you are also the pioneer who has lighted a new path for Taiwanese pitchers. In the past, few Taiwanese players dared to dream about playing in MLB. What made you dare to dream such big a dream at a young age?
At that time, Chen was a great inspiration for us. At our generation, he was a god-like figure to us. We wanted to compete with him, be his companion, so I followed his footsteps and to play in Dodgers.
What He Thought about Baseball…
Q：Can you talk about the most memorable game you played before going abroad?
It was probably the Golden-Dragon Flag baseball tournaments. I was only a freshman in high school and didn’t have the chance to play much. But there was one starting game and the pitcher didn’t do well, so I was replaced for his role and got seven consecutive innings without losing any points eventually. After that, the coach placed me as the ace pitcher. Had it not been for that time I wouldn’t be aware of the great sense of accomplishment of playing well and getting lots of attention.
Q: In a baseball game, a pitcher always gets tremendous attention. When you’re on the pitcher’s mound, how do you adjust your mentality?
How to adjust my mentality? Well, I don’t really think too much about it. When you’re up there, all you can do is throwing the ball, otherwise, people awaiting you. (Audience burst out laughing)
Q: During the process of achieving such an ambitious dream of “playing in MLB”, have you try to prepare yourself for it?
I did. I was the new potential but then got myself injured shortly and underwent 3 operations. The team started to see me a bit differently than before. I told myself that I would prove myself worthy and show to my parents. After all, I have given up a lot of things to come to the US since I was 18 in order to stand on the pitcher’s mound. The dream seemed closer, but actually, it took me a long time to accomplish it, step by step.
Q: Your family has been so supportive of you with baseball. When you encountered setbacks, did you miss home a lot?
Of course I missed home. But if I didn’t have confidence in myself, the coach would feel the same for me. So I’ve always hoped to show my confidence to everyone at every game. I wanted my parents in Taiwan to see me playing the game happily.
“The Immortal Phoenix” Spreading Wings in MLB
Q: Let’s talk about the thing that made Taiwanese fans go crazy. You were the first Taiwanese player ever to hit a home run in MLB. What were your thoughts and feelings at that moment? Did you have them once you heard the “clang”?
I sort of knew it when the ball was still in midair. (Q: Really?) Well, it was a feeling that you get when something wonderful happened as if the whole world is playing out in slow motion, you know? Like watch a romantic movie of first love. Before you two even spoke, just an accident bump into each other, you will know that everything is going to fall into place – that kind of feeling.
When I told the coaches I really could bat, they didn’t quite believe it. And then they were thrilled to see me hit a home run. Before the next plate appearance came up, my coach told me that we had people on base, so don’t bunt, just swing as hard as I could. When I heard that, I was like, “told you”. (Audience burst out laughing)
Q: You spent many years in the US, what prompted you to come back to Taiwan?
At that time in the US, I had reached the goals that I have set for myself: pitching again after injury, playing in MLB, playing at the all-star games. I’ve always wanted to play in CPBL, because after all, that’s the stage where I could enjoy playing in front of all my family and friends. I would say that I even felt more nervous in Taiwan, because everyone speaks Chinese, so I would receive comments directly, no matter positive or negative.
I also want to make feedbacks to my fans that supported me when I was injured. I received lots of letters at that time. My bracing up is also an encouragement to them. Every time I saw their letters my tears dropping, and I will wonder “How can I brace up in the future.”
Future Baseball Plans
Q: Are there other dreams you still possess along the way of baseball?
I’d like to see if I would have a chance to play for Taiwan at the WBSC Premier 12. I hope I could keep playing for Chinese Taipei, whether as a player or a coach.
Baseball is in my DNA, and the gym business I’m doing now is the same thing too. I hope to help those basic athletes for having chances to pursue their own dreams, no matter to become another Chien-Ming Wang or Wei-Yin Chen. For experience or training methods, I could provide some support and guidance along the way for them, so they wouldn’t have to bump their way through everything as I did.
▲Kuo, who has established his gym business in recent years, is teaching the audience easy exercise appropriately for office workers.
Q: You have been through many ups and downs in your life. What would you say to encourage Gamania’s colleagues?
When you can’t make a decision by thinking, then you just act instead.
When I wonder about one thing whether I can reach or it is practical, I just try it first. Even if it seems to be impossible to achieve in the first place, maybe some adjustment afterward can prevail. It’s similar to my physical rehabilitation, which took me about 8 years to accomplish. I did it just for one purpose: to be back to the pitch mound again.
Q: As a pitcher who has gone through so many elbow operations, have you ever doubted that you might not be able to play again?
When I had my second ligament transplantation, the team doctor and the coach told me that it wasn’t quite possible. But when someone told me I couldn’t do something, I would just go my way to prove them wrong. I had 8 operations in total. He said it was impossible to achieve within twice operations, but he didn’t mention eighth times will do either.
Rehabilitation was really a hard work. I just thought to myself, as long as these things work, I will do them. You never know if you never try.
<Q&A with Gamania Staff>
Q: When you face the batter on the pitcher’s mound, what’s on your mind?
I would observe their weak points, his movement and posture, and whether they were frightened or not. If they weren’t, I would use my eyes contacts to… (threaten), thinking “What can I do to prevail you”.
I quite like to use a brushback as my first throw to make him dodged and frightened a little bit. Then I’ll walk up to him to pick up the ball (laughing), to see his expression and how he is reacting. If he looks afraid, then I’m doing it right.
Because it is when the chances are 50/50, either he is in or out, if he shows his respect to me, I get much chances to win. I like using this way to show my confidence. If he also responds with confidence, I would try to come up with something else on my way back. (Chuckling)
Q: Back at the time, Taiwanese fans were crazy about the 2013 3rd World Baseball Classic. The facial expression was really aggressive when you struck out the Australian batter. What was on your mind at the time?
Like what I just said, I need to possess a high fighting spirit to get everything I want on the field. Why was I looking so confident after I struck him out? Because I knew before it happened that things will go in that way.
Q: At the last game of 2013’s World Baseball Classic, you faced the Korean team. When the batter hit a home run to you, I saw that afterward you carrying a backpack and entering a car without saying a word. I’ve wanted to know how do you face that kind of pressure and criticisms from the fans?
Basically, I knew it wouldn’t be an easy battle when I was playing for Taiwan. Everyone has their eyes on you whether you perform well or not. I heard the cheers for me. But I don’t take the negative comments seriously. For me, the most important moment is in the field.
I always playback the video from that day’s game when I get back home and reflect on myself. I also playback my better performances and see how I deal with the batters. I will digest the negative comments and turn them into motivation for continuous playing.
Q: Besides speedballs and sliders that you are good at, have you considered training for change-ups?
I did throw change-ups last year. When I threw out the change-ups ball, I was used to only raising my head after I’d heard the catcher caught the ball. Now, when I raise my head, the ball is still flying in mid-air. That’s the reason I went to train for change-ups. (All audience burst out laughing.)
Q: Will we see you play in CPBL?
If I have the opportunities.
Q: Lastly, Kuo, please give our colleagues at Gamania some words of encouragement.
I’ve encountered many setbacks in my baseball career. I didn’t have much chance to share the stories with people, so I’m really happy to talk to you today and share them. I hope that no matter what kind of challenges you might face in the future, you can always deal with it with a smile on your face.