GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — Nearly two years after he retired from baseball, left-hander Bruce Chen is getting ready to pitch for China in the World Baseball Classic.
The 39-year-old Chen retired after the Cleveland Indians designated him for assignment on May 15, 2015, and none of the other teams claimed him off waivers. When the team from China reached out to him late last year, Chen wondered if it was looking for a pitching coach.
"Two days later, they told me they wanted me to pitch," Chen said on Wednesday.
The Indians had hired him as a cultural development coordinator and supported his decision to get back on the mound. Chen's main worry was how his decision would be received. His grandparents were born in China, but he grew up in Panama and pitched on its team in 2006 and 2009.
"I was afraid people in Panama wouldn't like it but when the news broke, people were excited," Chen said. "I'm excited to get to honor my grandparents."
Chen is taking several members of his family with him to Tokyo, where China will play its opening games in the WBC. His 13-year-old daughter is learning the language in school and will serve as his translator with teammates.
Chen pitched in the majors for 17 years, going 82-81 with a 4.68 ERA. He played for the Braves, Phillies, Mets, Expos, Reds, Astros, Red Sox, Orioles, Rangers, Royals and Indians. He started two games for Cleveland in 2015 and went 0-1, giving up nine runs in 6 1/3 innings. When no other team wanted him, he decided it was time to move on.
"I wasn't like Mariano Rivera, who announced his retirement at the start of the year," Chen said. "I didn't know when my last game was going to be but I was fine with retirement."
The Indians hired him to help players transition from their countries to life in the major leagues. Chen had no thought of playing again until the team from China reached out to him.
He lives in Arizona and started throwing in January. He's nervous about how he'll perform after such a long layoff.
"I have been through spring training 17 years, but I was nervous in front of the players," Chen said. "It's the competitive nature. You know you are around the best players in the world. You don't want to look like you don't belong there."
Once he started throwing, Chen realized how much he missed competing.
"It's a feeling like no other," he said. "You can't replicate it. It's a feeling I haven't felt in two years. Even though I haven't faced any hitters yet, I can feel it. I know once I get on the mound in the Tokyo Dome, I'm going to get that feeling."
NOTES: The Indians signed left-hander James Russell to a minor league deal and invited him to camp. The 31-year-old pitcher has played for the Cubs, Braves and Phillies over seven seasons. He appeared in seven games for Philadelphia last season and gave up nine runs in 4 1/3 innings. He's the son of former Reds pitcher Jeff Russell.