A home run

Chi­nese catcher signs con­tract to play base­ball with Red Sox

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By YANG XINWEI yangx­in­wei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Justin Qiang­baren­zeng is reap­ing the ben­e­fits of an ac­cel­er­ated base­ball ed­u­ca­tion.

Ten years ago, the Ti­betan teenager had no clue about the game. But ear­lier this month, the 6-foot, 185-pound catcher signed a con­tract with the Bos­ton Red Sox.

“The Red Sox have the vi­sion to trust Justin for his tal­ent,” Rick Dell, MLB Asia’s gen­eral man­ager of base­ball de­vel­op­ment, said at the of­fi­cial sign­ing cer­e­mony last week in Nan­jing.

“I thank Justin’s trust in the MLB De­vel­op­ment Cen­ter train­ing pro­gram. He’s a prod­uct of our MLB Play Ball! pro­gram when he played for Dacheng School in Bei­jing and won the 2011 na­tional cham­pi­onship.”

In 2015, Xu Guiyuan signed with the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles, and two months ago pitcher Gong Haicheng inked a deal with the Pitts­burgh Pi­rates. Qiang­baren­zeng is the first Ti­betan to sign with a pro team.

“If you were sit­ting here two years ago and said we would have three play­ers from our DCs signed with MLB, I don’t think any­one would have be­lieved it,” said Dell.

“I think it’s out­stand­ing. To have one player signed is out­stand­ing, but to have Xu, Gong and now Justin signed, it re­ally val­i­dates our pro­gram.”

Born to a work­ing-class fam­ily in Ti­bet’s Maizhokung­gar county in 2001, Qiang­baren­zeng joined the Bei­jing Dacheng School base­ball team un­der coach Li Wei at age 6. Three years later he helped Team China beat Chi­nese Taipei to win a tour­na­ment in Ja­pan and was one of six Chi­nese se­lected for the All-Star team.

“Justin’s base­ball IQ is on a whole new level,” said Ray Chang, a Chi­nese-Amer­i­can who played Triple A ball in the US and is now head coach at the Nan­jing DC.

“What makes Justin dif­fer- ent is that he makes ad­just­ments very, very quickly.

“With Justin, you know his mind is al­ways go­ing, al­ways turn­ing, al­ways mak­ing quick ad­just­ments, al­ways mak­ing him­self bet­ter. That’s what will help him achieve suc­cess in the States.”

Chang was con­vinced of the kid’s work ethic when he wit­nessed Qiang­baren­zeng prac­tic­ing slid­ing on a soggy in­field af­ter a sud­den rain­storm. “I knew then that he was some­thing spe­cial,” said the coach.

Dell agrees.

Justin has an out­stand­ing work ethic, and I’m sure that’s what the Bos­ton Red Sox have seen. He’s very adapt­able.” Rick Dell, gen­eral man­ager of base­ball de­vel­op­ment, MLB Asia

“Justin has an out­stand­ing work ethic, and I’m sure that’s what the Bos­ton Red Sox have seen. He’s very adapt­able. Just two months ago he switched po­si­tions from sec­ond base to catcher and he has done it seam­lessly.

“His sign­ing con­firms MLB’s com­mit­ment to China, to give young men a chance to dream, be­lieve and suc­ceed.”

Af­ter their ini­tial as­sess­ment, Red Sox scout Louie Lin and Ed­die Romero, Bos­ton’s for­mer in­ter­na­tional scout­ing di­rec­tor and now as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager, sug­gested Qiang­baren­zeng could be a good catcher, prompt­ing the switch.

“Justin’s suc­cess­ful switch to catcher was cru­cial in our de­ci­sion to sign him,” said Lin, who has been scout­ing in Chi- na for the past 10 years.

“He is my first main­land player, but I be­lieve he won’t be the last.”

Bos­ton has signed eight play­ers from Tai­wan, which Lin be­lieves will help smooth Qiang­baren­zeng’s tran­si­tion.

“I know it’s a great honor to sign with the Red Sox,” said the 16-year old. “And I also know more dif­fi­cult times are wait­ing for me, but I be­lieve I can suc­ceed. Be­ing lucky also means you have to work harder, and that’s what I will do.

“I will train even harder than be­fore be­cause I have changed to catcher ... which means more ef­fort. I will work harder to re­pay those who have helped so much along the way.”

Li Wei, who coached Qiang­baren­zeng on the Dacheng School team, re­called the player’s ded­i­ca­tion to train­ing — in­clud­ing ris­ing each morn­ing at 4:30 to be­gin his work­outs.

“I be­lieve Justin could be the first suc­cess­ful Chi­nese player in MLB,” said Li.

“He is strong willed and very ca­pa­ble of fac­ing new chal­lenges.”

Qiang­baren­zeng will leave for the US at the end of Au­gust to live and train with the Red Sox’ Gulf Coast League rookie af­fil­i­ate in Florida.

“From Justin’s sign­ing, we see the fu­ture of China’s base­ball,” said Yi Sheng, team leader of China’s na­tional base­ball squad.

Yi said that al­though only 668 play­ers are reg­is­tered with the China Base­ball As­so­ci­a­tion, the coun­try is ranked 17 th in the world — the high­est of any of China’s men’s na­tional teams.

“The sign­ing of three Chi­nese play­ers with MLB teams is a small start, but a big step for­ward for China’s base­ball de­vel­op­ment,” said Yi.

“I can hon­estly say that I think base­ball has a great fu­ture in China.”

WU YING / FOR CHINA DAILY

Ti­bet’s Justin Qiang­baren­zeng last week be­came the third grad­u­ate of China’s MLB De­vel­op­ment Cen­ters to sign a ma­jor-league con­tract when he inked a rookie deal with the Bos­ton Red Sox. The 16-year-old re­cently switched from play­ing sec­ond base to catcher.

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