For the first time since 2009, an Asian player in Major League Baseball (MLB) was the starting pitcher on Opening Day 2015 when Masahiro Tanaka took the mound for the New York Yankees. Since 2000, there have only been five Asian MLB pitchers who have pitched opening day games, starting with Chan-ho Park with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2001 and most recently Hiroki Kuroda in 2009 with the same team. When Tanaka pitched on opening day against the Toronto Blue Jays, he earned the role over six-time opening day pitcher CC Sabathia. Last year, he was one of three Asian players to claim a spot on the 2014 MLB All-Star Team for the American League, in addition to Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers and Koji Uehara of the Boston Red Sox.
Another Asian notable in MLB this year is the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Jung Ho Kang of South Korea. A star player in his home country, Kang’s signing during the offseason was lauded by Pittsburgh fans. While South Korea is noted for producing pitchers that join American teams, Kang is an infielder with impressive batting abilities.
According to the opening day 25-man rosters for all teams across the league, there are nine MLB players from Japan, three from South Korea, one from Taiwan, and two from Australia. Of the total 868 current MLB players, 230 are foreign born. In the past, there have also been MLB players from other Asian countries, including Indians Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, and Bobby Chouinard from the Philippines. Historically, there have been a total of 95 MLB players from the Asia Pacific, starting with Australian Joe Quinn in 1884. In recent years, Asian players have also been making significant off-the-field contributions to the US cities and communities they have come to call home.
Nina Geller is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a recent graduate of the Monterey Institute of International Studies.