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Wang doesn't need mound to loom large at home

TAINAN, Taiwan -- In a dimly lit Taiwanese classroom, the Chongsywe Elementary School baseball team crowded around a flickering television set to watch Chien-Ming Wang take the mound for the New York Yankees against the Seattle Mariners.

Wang, Chongsywe's most famous alumnus, went seven innings in the Yankees' 9-2 win to improve his record to 15-5.

Local television broadcasts his starts live -- usually early in
the morning -- cable news stations show endless reruns of his most
heroic moments, and Chinese language newspapers describe his
exploits with lavish superlatives.

Nowhere is the adulation more intense than at Chongsywe, a large
complex of stolid looking classrooms and expansive playing fields
where a life-size size statue of a Taiwanese baseball player
dominates the main courtyard.

Twelve year old pitcher Nien Wen-Fang explains what it means to
have Wang as a role model.

"I absolutely idolize him," he said. "I want to be just like
him."

The team practices five days a week, two hours a day under the
watchful eye of coach Liu Yong-Song, a personable 53-year-old who
has been at the school for 20 years -- including the time in the
late 1980s and early 1990s when Wang was on the squad.

"Wang donated the statue in the courtyard," Liu says. "He comes here during the offseason to give our players tips. He's a big presence in our program."

The Chongsywe team's designated field of dreams -- the same field
where Wang played on -- is a rough patch of infield dirt and
un-mowed grass, notable for its lower than regulation pitcher's
mound, and its invitingly short right field fence -- both pitcher's
nightmares.

But according to Liu, Wang wasn't phased by them.

"From the time he was in third grade I knew he had talent," he said. "But even more important was his personality. He was quiet,
self-contained and he didn't horse around with other kids."

Still, Liu says, he had no idea that Wang was destined for
stardom in the major leagues.

"The truth is," he said. "I've coached better players."