Whenever Dan Reichert has a meeting with his coaches on the mound, it looks like a game of telephone.
The thing is, Reichert, a Turlock High graduate, is the pitcher for the Uni-President Lions, based in Tainan City, Taiwan, where Mandarin is the common language. But it’s not that simple for the American-born Reichert. His pitching coach speaks only Japanese. So when there’s a meeting on the mound, the team’s strengths and conditioning coach is also present, since he’s the only one on the team who understands Japanese. Once that coach gets the information, he has to pass it along to the team’s English translator. And finally, Reichert knows what’s up.
“Things get lost in translation,” he said recently by phone.
“Dan just says, ‘As long as he doesn’t hold out his hand for the ball, I know I’m still in,’” said his mom, Mary.
Reichert is 35, years from his days at Turlock High. He has traveled a long path since being coached under Mark de la Motte, who still heads the Bulldogs program. At this moment, it’s early Thursday morning in Taipei, Taiwan, where Reichert’s team just wrapped up a game. It’s almost 1 a.m. (about 15 hours ahead of local time) and he’s in his hotel room, calling from his MagicJack, which allows him to make international calls through his computer.
At this moment, he believes he can make a return to Major League Baseball.
“I like to think I can get big leaguers out, absolutely,” he said.
These days, he’s far from home.
In 1994, he did not sign with St. Louis after the Cardinals drafted him in the 11th round. He decided to play for the University of Pacific, eventually becoming the Big West Conference Pitcher of the Year and a First-Team College All-American in 1997. All those accolades helped make him the seventh overall pick in the MLB draft that same year, leading to a $1.45 million signing bonus with the Kansas City Royals.
Then, on July 16, 1999, he made his MLB debut for the Royals.
His last appearance in the majors was Sept. 25, 2003, when he pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays. In five seasons, he played for two teams and had a career major league record of 21-25 with a 5.55 ERA and 240 strikeouts.
In his lifetime, he has worn about 20 different professional uniforms.
Prior to Taiwan, he played four seasons for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, an independent league unaffiliated with the MLB. Because of the experience he’s gained from team to team, he believes he can still be a MLB threat. When he was younger, Reichert said, “I went out there, threw the ball as fast as I could and hoped it was a strike.”
His 95-mph fastball is now around 87, but he knows how to set up a pitch. His sinker has good movement. He knows how to get batters out.
But for now, he’s enjoying the uniqueness of living an ocean away from his family and friends. Recently, his wife Lisa and their son Jackson visited Reichert for three weeks. His son, still seeing the world with a fresh set of eyes, enjoyed all the motor scooters racing by him and waving down a cab at the tender age of 6. Of course, Reichert showed his wife and son the sights and sounds of an island with millions and millions of people.
Reichert has been living in Taiwan since March, not long after he got a phone call about playing overseas. He knew he had to steal the chance, even if he didn’t speak the native language and that he’d distance himself from his loved ones. Basically, he said, he didn’t want to live in a “tiny bubble” his whole life. Plus, he knew that he’d continue to pitch, with hopes of playing in ultra-competitive Japan after this experience.
“You have to explore all your opportunities,” he said. “You want to experience life the best you can.”
Thanks to today’s technology, he doesn’t get homesick much. With a click of a button, he has video chat sessions with his wife and son, who live in Lincoln, Neb. He keeps friends up to date on his daily happenings on Facebook, posting pictures of his lunch or dinner and videos of his sometimes awkward postgame interviews.
To help with the transition, he trades jokes with his Uni-President Lions teammates, with three of them being Americans. One American teammate said that once they return home to the U.S., they’ll be some of the best charades players around, knowing that they normally communicate with their hands.
“That makes it a whole lot easier when you share a sense of humor with your teammates,” said Reichert, the 6-foot-3 right-hander who notched his 10th win of the season this week. “The smile is always the same in any language, no matter where you go. When you try to ask one of the teammates for something, they give you a blank stare that says, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’ So you use your charades abilities to act out what you’re trying to say.”
Again, he’s a long way from home.
To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.