A rise in baseball players in China could potentially make it to the major leagues
By: Alex Yuan
When DJ, a Chinese baseball player, hit a double and refrained himself from doing the risky run to third, none of the fans cheered. It was a normal routine for him and the team. But when the story was told to his former coach, Ray Chang, he was ecstatic about his performance.
“That’s awesome. I love hearing that,” said Mr. Chang excitedly, who is also the manager of the MLB’s player development initiative in China. “Our main focus is talking about the ins and outs and the strategies of the game because when these kids come to us, they are so far behind where a U.S. kid would be in terms of experience playing and watching the game.”
MLB recruiters have been bringing the sport of baseball to China during recent years in order to make more people interested in the sport.
The first development center instituted in China was in 2009, in the city of Wuxi. More were established later on in 2011 and 2014, one in Changzhou and one in Nanjing respectively. Mr. Chang has been the head coach of the Nanjing center since 2017 when he retired from a 12 season long minor league career.
DJ, at 24 years old, was a former student of Chang. His name on visa documents is Fnu Suonandajie. However, Fnu isn’t a name, it stands for: “First Name Unknown.” Suonandajie isn’t a name given to him by a family member either, it was given to him by a monk when he was little. He asked the Americans to call him DJ because he thought it would be easier to fill the cultural gap between them.
When the recruiters first met DJ, they were pleasantly surprised with his movement, speed, and accuracy while throwing. It’s a skill he learned as a child, by throwing stones at the yaks to stop them from grazing. He had to throw it close enough to the yaks to startle them yet without injuring them.
DJ recalls that his second choices would most likely have been basketball, soccer, tennis, or table tennis. But he found baseball and went through the high school development program in Nanjing.
“I like the idea of pitcher versus batter, just me against him,” DJ recounted while expressing his passion for the sport. “My first game in the summer league this year, I strike out first three at-bats, but when I get another chance, I was like, ‘You got me the first three, but I got this one,’ and I squared that ball and hit it in the gap. I flipped my bat and I said to myself, ‘I got you.’ That kind of idea that you just don’t give up until the last out, I really like that.”
With more and more people like DJ starting to play baseball in China, the major league could potentially see some more Chinese players in the future.