When Tzu-Wei Lin returned to his native Taiwan after the 2017 season that featured a noteworthy jump from Double-A Portland to Boston, the super utility player and slick defender who’s currently on the PawSox roster did so as a relative unknown.
Then came an endorsement deal which proved that not everyone in Lin’s homeland was unaware of the heights the 24-year-old had climbed while plying his baseball trade roughly 8,000 miles away.
When the popular sandwich shop Subway approached Lin’s agent about having his client do a commercial while wearing a baseball uniform, it was a no-brainer. On his personal Facebook page, there’s a photo of a smiling Lin in a hat and jersey with “Subway” emblazoned on both as he prepares to sink his teeth into a sandwich.
In Red Sox circles, Lin became a cult sensation due to several catchy nicknames – Linsanity, Tzunami, and Linnie to name a new. Once his Subway ad went public in Taiwan, he could no longer walk the streets as a relative unknown.
“Why not do it? Subway is very big in Taiwan,” Lin said. “It was good for me and nice to be finally recognized back home.”
Whether he’s enjoying a sandwich in Pawtucket, Boston, or Taiwan, Lin lists steak & cheese and Buffalo chicken as his go-to options at Subway. He laughed when asked if his endorsement pact included free Subway and had the power to be utilized in multiple countries.
In retrospect, it’s been a whirlwind past 12 months for Lin. From making his big-league debut without spending a single day in Double-A, to getting an endorsement that helped make him a household name in Taiwan, to rebounding from a slow start at the plate this season, to pulling into Pawtucket’s All-Star break with a .308 batting average … there’s not much he hasn’t encountered.
When Lin learned that he had been called up by Boston, his interpreter and Red Sox minor-league coach Mickey Jiang gave him a piece of advice that one year later still resonates deeply. Like Lin, Jiang also grew up in Taiwan.
“Kids in Taiwan would be watching, so make sure to be an example for them,” Lin recalled.
Jiang was a coach on the Portland staff when Lin was told to meet the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
“Mickey [Jiang] told me that you can’t be timid. Then you won’t have fun.”
“It was definitely exciting. I kept telling Mickey that I couldn’t believe it. It was such a big surprise,” Lin said. “Mickey’s response was to just play like you have been in Double-A. The game is still the same up there.”
Lin is one of only two Taiwan-born players to appear in a major-league game with the Red Sox. The other is Che-Hsuan Lin, an outfielder who helped the PawSox capture the 2012 Govenors’ Cup. Tzu-Wei Lin as an 18-year-old signed with the Red Sox as an international free agent in 2012. As far as the language barrier, his fellow countryman provided some advice upon reporting to rookie ball in Fort Myers, Fla.
“Che-Hsuan told me about a very good language school that was based in Boston,” Lin said. “In no time, I was Facetiming with the teacher.”
That was a good start, but Lin still needed a better grasp of English in order to not feel like a complete fish out of water. Again, this is where Jiang proved instrumental in bridging the gap for Lin, who said there was a time in his Red Sox minor-league tenure where he wouldn’t move between pregame batting practice and first pitch. He would sit by his locker, oscillating between looking at his phone or iPad.
“Even though I wanted to learn, I was very shy,” Lin said. “Mickey told me that you can’t be timid. Then you won’t have fun. You have to talk to your teammates. That way, you’ll be able to learn English a lot faster.”
Told by a reporter that he deserves a ton of credit for being able to conduct an interview in his second language, Lin politely said, “Thank you.”
“He’s fully bilingual and it’s very impressive. I’m sure it’s not easy. It’s two different animals as far as languages are concerned,” PawSox manager Kevin Boles said. “It’s an openness to want to learn and that’s going to help him down the road. Now he can take instruction. He doesn’t need a translator with him all the time. There’s a comfort level.”
With the PawSox, there’s also a comfort level as far as Lin’s output at the plate. Earlier this season, he went one month between games in the minors after spending time with the Red Sox. Lin played sparingly while on Boston’s roster and faced the challenge of shaking off the rust upon getting optioned to Triple-A. On May 22, Lin’s batting average dipped to .188. Thanks to a 16-game hitting streak that ran from May 27 through June 14, Lin was able to get back on track and emerge as a dependable leadoff hitter for the PawSox.
“At one point, I was pressing,” Lin said. “Then I told myself to keep it simple. See the ball, hit the ball.”
“There’s players who go up and maybe they’re part timers … limited playing time at the major-league level. When they come back, you look at their numbers and they just don’t equate to the player. Tzu-Wei is no different,” Boles said. “For him to fight back and get his numbers squared away … he’s able to keep his timing and that’s because he’s in the lineup every day. “
Defensively, Lin can be moved around the diamond like pieces on a chessboard. He’s solidified himself as Pawtucket’s primary shortstop, though he can also play second base, third base, and center field.
“He understands that every pitch is vital and that he plays an important position in the field,” Boles said. “At shortstop, he’s done a much better job of taking care of the routine play.”
Lin has the potential to be an extremely valuable contributor for the Red Sox for many years. If that does come to fruition, he may just have a few more endorsement requests waiting for him.
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