During his 17 seasons in the Major Leagues, Bruce Chen had his share of highlights on the mound and together with Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, shares the record for most wins by a Panamanian pitcher in MLB history.
The left-hander made his Major League debut in 1998 with the Atlanta Braves and also played with Philadelphia, New York Mets, Montreal, Cincinnati, Houston, Boston, Baltimore, Texas, Kansas City and Cleveland before hanging up his spikes in May 2015.
He won 11 games or more on four different seasons, and his best years were as a member of the Royals (2009-2014), where he had 47 wins. Overall, he finished with a 82-81 clip and an ERA of 4.62 in 1,532 innings pitched during his 17 seasons .
However, one of his most rewarding experiences was when he came out of a two-year retirement to represent Team China at the World Baseball Classic to honor his paternal grandfather who was born there and his maternal grandmother who grew up there.
Chen represented Panama in the 2006 and 2009 edition of the Classic, but his country’s elimination in the 2017 qualifying round opened the door for him to wear the Chinese uniform during the first-round of the event, held in Tokyo, Japan.
He saw pitching action in a single game by throwing 2.2 scoreless innings in a 6-0 loss to the Cuban national team, but after the game he assured that “this experience, I will never forget. I will never forget this game” .
“Every experience I had in the majors was tremendous,” added Chen. “But for me, guiding my teammates, knowing my parents were watching, was tremendous satisfaction.”
Chen’s paternal grandfather, Kuen Chin Chan Lee, traveled with his family to Panama at the age of nine during the Chinese Civil War, while his maternal grandmother, Kuen Yin Liu de Laffo, was born in the Central American country, but she returned with her family to China when she was a small kid before returning to Panama at the age of 24.
“It’s about me being able to give something back to my grandparents,” Chen told MLB.com in an interview shortly after announcing his intention to play for China. ” Even though I was born in Panama, I am of Chinese descent . My mom is so proud. My dad is so proud. I can only imagine how proud my grandparents would be if they were still alive, seeing me give something in return to the country (where they were born).
“They didn’t speak Spanish very well, so it was difficult for me to communicate with them as a child. For me, doing this – honoring them and celebrating my heritage and pitching once more in front of my children – is a tremendous opportunity,” said the now retired left handed pitcher.
Chen, who currently works for the Los Angeles Dodgers organization as Latin America coordinator, ended his career as a player after the World Baseball Classic with that great memory, being one of many he had during his career on the diamond.
For now, Chen joins Rivera as the two player answer to the question – who is the winningest MLB pitcher among Panamanians? …but he will also be remembered for the pride he takes in his Asian roots, and he will always remember being able to fulfill his dream of representing his grandparents’ country on the field.