Chang's 'biggest hit' set to boost mainland interest
The Kansas City-born minor leaguer's two-run single helps China beat Brazil and secure their place in the 2017 World Classic
Ray Chang hailed the biggest hit of his life after his two-run single secured China's win over Brazil and guaranteed a spot in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, a result that looks set to boost the sport on the mainland.
Shortstop Chang, who also starred at the tournament's last edition in 2009, stepped up with China trailing 1-2 in the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded, and fired left to make it 3-2. China eventually won the game 5-2.
"No doubt, that was the biggest hit of my life," said the Kansas City-born minor leaguer. "I've played seven or eight years of professional baseball. I've had some clutch hits in my career, but nothing like this. This is not just for a Single-A, Double-A team. This is for an entire country," said Chang.
The win propelled China to third place in pool A and a guaranteed berth in 2017, even though they failed to join Japan, Cuba, Taiwan and the Netherlands in the second round. The final round will be played in San Francisco later this month.
Chang, 29, was also the hero in 2009, scoring a homer and two more runs in China's first ever Classic victory, a 4-1 win over Taiwan. "They both were big games for the country. You can't really say one was bigger than the other. This seems a lot bigger now, just because it's in the moment," Chang said.
China's head coach John McLaren said the upset win over Brazil was "just a great feeling".
"I've worked with these kids since September 2011, and just how far we've come is incredible. I congratulated the team and I told them to go home and tell everybody in China what a great feeling it is to play baseball and spread the word."
Major League Baseball Asia vice-president Jim Small has previously called for a player who can increase the sport's popularity in China, where it was banned during the Cultural Revolution.
Former LA Dodgers pitcher Hideo Nomo ignited the MLB for Japanese fans in 1995, followed by Ichiro Suzuki and Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish. Japan are two-time defending champions.
On the mainland, successful athletes have also made a huge difference for their sports. Li Na's 2011 French Open win was the trigger for a push for tennis events in the country, with five on the Women's Tennis Association schedule for next year.
Despite his success, Chang was unsure if he'd be selected again in 2017. "I hope they ask me back. I would be honoured and blessed to play for team China once again," said Chang.
McLaren said: "Ray, I'm sure you're going to be on the team, you've won the last two [Classic victories for China]. I don't know about me, but I'm pretty sure you're a lock."