Lyle Lin and Chun An Yu, growing up an hour or so apart in Taiwan, came to the same conclusion early in their teens.
To succeed athletically to the level of their dreams, they needed to come to the United States.
Neither spoke much English when they took the plunge — Lin in 2013 when he migrated to San Juan Capistrano, Calif., for high school and Yu in 2015 to the Gilchrist Golf Academy near Orlando, Fla. That started them on a path toward Arizona State, where as 19-year-old freshmen they already are perhaps the most high profile Taiwanese athletes in school history.
Lin’s baseball career is off to a blazing start with more than one hit in almost half of his first 27 games, reaching base in all but one, for a .369average with 17 RBI (both team highs). Yu won the National Invitational Tournament and tied for second at ASU’s Thunderbird Invitational, shooting 63 in the second round.
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Baseball and golf being distinct circles, Lin and Yu did not know each other before January when Yu started at ASU after completing mandatory military service in the fall.
“One day I was in study hall and he came up and said, Hey dude are you from Taiwan?” Yu said. “We just started talking about ourselves. We hang out a couple of times and become pretty good friends,” even teaching each other the basics of their sport. “He can play some golf just for fun. A lot of baseball players do that.”
The 6-1 Lin has a smooth, simple swing that likely would translate on the golf course. He was the first Taiwanese-born player to be a major league draft pick (16th round by Seattle in 2016) but chose the college route instead coming out of JSerra Catholic High School.
“That day when Arizona State told me they wanted to recruit me was probably the best moment ever,” Lin said. “When I came here (to the U.S.), I’m telling myself I wanted to play DI baseball, go to a great school and get an education. Sun Devil baseball has Barry Bonds, Dustin Pedroia, many great big-leaguers. I’m so glad I’m here.”
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Lin grew up in Taipei, starting baseball in third grade. His older sister came to the U.S. for college at UC Santa Barbara, and Lyle pestered his parents (his father works in real estate) to allow him to follow at a younger age for the sake of his baseball development. Approval came before his sophomore year of high school when Lin’s English amounted to: “My name is Lyle, I’m 15 and I’m from Taiwan.”
He did not even know what anyone from his host family looked like.
“It’s not as easy as I thought before I come here,” Lin said. “That’s how I kind of grew up and became a man. I had to. You just keep learning, keep learning.”
So too for Yu, who goes by Kevin at the suggestion of his first English teacher. His father is a teaching professional at a golf ranch in Yaoyuan, where Yu started playing at age 5. He was playing summer tournaments in the U.S. by 2012, leading to the six-month stay at Gilchrist that put him on the path to a major college scholarship.
“I knew he had the potential to be a good player,” said Gilcrhist coach Matt Fields, who first met Yu while conducting clinics in Taiwan. “Primarily what we focused on was his fundamentals and physically he got in a lot better shape when he was here. Learning when to play aggressive and when to hold back was a big key. We prepared him to have a great summer.”
And oh what a summer of 2015 it was.
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Yu won the Western Junior Championship and became the first international winner of the AJGA Junior Players Championship. He took the Western Junior title in a sudden death playoff over Carl Yuan, a Chinese native who already was committed to play at Washington under then coach Matt Thurmond. Now pro golfer C.T. Pan of Taiwan also played for the Huskies and is “like family,” Yu said. But Washington wasn’t the right fit for him. Instead he signed in November 2015 with ASU, then coached by Tim Mickelson, who left after the 2016 season to be replaced by Thurmond.
“I’ve known about him for a long time,” through Pan, said Thurmond. “I’m so excited to coach him here and create that connection. We’ve seen his top end (game) is amazing. He’s got all the skills. He’s not perfectly consistent just yet, but he’s not lacking anything. It’s more a product of experience. How badly he wants just pours out of him, how much he cares and how much it means to him. As a starting point, you love an athlete like that.”
Lin was part of a baseball recruiting class ranked as high as No. 1 nationally although not for his hitting. “When we first were looking at him, we fell in love with his defensive ability behind the plate,” coach Tracy Smith said. “Shows you how much we know.” Lin has played mostly first base because of his bat and because ASU has two other capable catchers. He is on a 10-game hitting streak through Tuesday.
“If I’m helping the team win, that doesn’t really even matter,” said Lin, who still thinks of himself as a catcher.
Smith said Lin is harder on himself than people realize because of his amicable demeanor. There is some Linsanity building during ASU games, where fans wave the flag of Taiwan and are embracing their budding star. “He holds himself to a high standard,” Smith said. “What he’s accomplished in such a short amount of time blows your mind. The beautiful part if he’s such a likable kid.”