Almost 8,000 Miles From Home, Two Brothers Faced Off With One Goal: “Just beat him.”

ALTOONA, Pa. – Remember that time at the local community basketball court, on the diamond with your friends, or in the backyard on Thanksgiving morning for the annual Turkey Bowl? If you were lucky enough to have any siblings that loved to go out and play too, you would remember how much fun it was to compete against them while on the other team.

Luckily for me, I still get those opportunities every once in a while at family gatherings, to beat up on my older brothers, usually on the small basketball court at my Grandma’s house. Just a good ole fashion pick-up game in the backyard feels like Game 7 of the NBA Finals when squaring off against my ultra-competitive brothers. For Jin-De Jhang and his brother, they are living out this dream in the realist sense possible.

I’m not writing this to dissect the ins-and-outs of Jhang’s young season, where he only has one hit in four games after returning from the disabled list. Rather, I’m writing this to bring to light how rare — and awesome might I add — it is for Jhang and his brother, Yu-Cheng Chang of the Akron Rubberducks, to be able to square off against each other this past week in Altoona.

Only 7,884 miles away from Taitung City, Taiwan, the place Jin-De and Yu-Cheng call home, the brothers played each other for the first time in the minor league circuit.

“I’m sure it’s got to be special for him,” Curve manager Michael Ryan said. “It should be fun to be on the same field as your brother. A lot of people wish they could, especially at this high of a level. It should be a good experience for them both.”

Yu-Cheng, the younger brother of Jin-De, was signed by the Cleveland Indians as a non-drafted free agent in 2013, two years after his older brother was signed by the Pirates. He is rated as the Indians’ number 11 prospects according to MLBpipeline.com. He didn’t make his rookie ball debut until 2014 and has quickly risen through the Indians’ minor league system.

Two of four brothers in Taiwan, three whom play baseball, Jin-De and Yu-Cheng faced each other once before in the United States — last fall in the Arizona Fall League; however, this was the first time they have faced off within the minor league system. Jhang says that his family back home is extremely proud of how far he and his brother have come.

“My mom is very happy,” Jhang said. “Back home, a lot of people come to see us play the game. I think they are just very happy for us.”

They haven’t seen each other since the offseason back in Taiwan, and Jin-De said that they don’t get to talk too often while playing here in the United States, but the opportunity to play your brother — especially at this high of a professional level — is rare. According the Jhang, only one other pair of Taiwanese brothers have played professional baseball in the Unites States. One of those brothers should be vaguely familiar, as Wei-Chung Wang was signed by the Pirates in 2011 but was taken by the Brewers in the 2013 Rule 5 Draft. Wei-Chung is the younger brother of former Chicago Cubs minor leaguer Yao-Lin Wang. The two never had the opportunity to face each other in a game, even though both were in the Florida State League around the same time in 2014.

Even though they are in different dugouts, Jhang is still extremely proud of his younger brother.

“It was pretty fun to see my brother play today,” Jhang said. “I have great pride for him.”

His brother Yu-Cheng said that “it’s fun” to play against Jin-De. Yu-Cheng’s English is no where close to the level of his older brother, but his goal was very simple this week.

“Just beat him,” Chang said about his brother with a laugh. “I want to play better [than him].”

This time around, the Rubberducks’ shortstop had the last laugh, going 3-for-10 from the plate with a couple of doubles. Akron swept the Curve in the four-game series, as Altoona’s bats have had trouble coming up with the big hit lately. Jin-De went 0-for-7 with a HBP in his two games played in the series.

Jhang, Chang… what gives?

This was the topic of many conversations this past week. Why do the two brothers have different last names? The answer is easy. Jin-De kind of messed it up.

As a 10-year-old, Jin-De got his passport and spelled his name with a “J” rather than a “C”. He says that the Mandarin can translate to either a “C” or a “J” in English; however, he is the only one in his family that wrote it with that spelling.

“I was little and went for my passport, and something went wrong after that,” Jhang said.

Jhang laughed and said that “it’s kind of cool” being the different one out of the bunch. According to Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror, there has never been two brothers with last names spelled differently in the Major Leagues, so if both brothers make it, it would have historical significance.

Jhang’s Upside

As for making the majors some day, it is quite obvious that the Pirates’ organization has high hopes for the catcher. His manager noted that he has improved at receiving and game calling, and his left-handed bat makes him extremely intriguing as a catching prospect.

Not only that, the recent trades of Reese McGuire and Taylor Gushue (to the Nationals for Chris Bostick this past offseason) left Jin-De Jhang as one of the best catchers left in the system.

“We’ve had two really highly touted catching prospects that they’ve traded away,” Ryan said. “I think Jin-De is the reason why. He’s a great caliber guy with that left-handed stick. He calls a really good game. He’s a thicker body, has a big target for our pitchers, and does a really good job framing the low pitch. Everything a good catcher does, he does. You add the left-handed bat, it makes him intriguing. You’ve seen [Jin-De] hit. He’s a dang good hitter.”

  • The story of him choosing a different letter for his name on a passport is funny. It shows a difference in cultures. It’s interesting that despite America being an individualistic culture and Asia being a collectivist culture the child was allowed to spell his own name on his passport where in America there is no way a 10 year old would be allowed to do that without an adult overruling. I love quirky stories like this. Now if he and his brother become stars they will have to explain this like 5000 times the rest of their lives.

    • BTW Jhang is actually closer to the original mandarin pronunciation than Chang, so it kinda make sense for a child to spell it that way.

  • Nice article Sean. Maybe this sibling rivalry will propel both of them to achieve their MLB dreams. Pirates have certainly shown they like Jin by the trades they’ve made.

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