At the recent World Baseball Classic, Taiwan’s Yu Chang (張育成) attracted global attention. Within one week, Chang’s enigmatic salute, electrifying performance, and endearing words catapulted him from disrepute as a draft-dodger to acclaim as “secretary of defense” (國防部長).

For Taiwanese fans, the nickname took on a different meaning. With his stellar performance, Chang was defending home turf. Although Taiwan didn’t make the quarterfinals in Tokyo, he won the award as the most valuable player of the pool after helping the national team score two victories, against Italy and the Netherlands.

Life in the army is a collective experience for many Taiwanese men. Although perceived by many to be dreadful and a waste of time, it binds the nation together. In his memoir, Barbarian at the Gate, T. C. Locke, an American-born filmmaker and a naturalized citizen of Taiwan, described how his experience in the Taiwanese army made him feel more assimilated into the country after completing his service, “Everything was larger, less foreign, more a part of me—and myself more a part of them. I was home again, for the first time.”


Photo Credit: YouTube screenshot

Chang salutes after reaching base.


Before the WBC, an announcement left Major League Baseball free agent Yu Chang, a native of Taichung, Taiwan, rather alienated from his compatriots. In 2019, Chang struck a deal with the government to reduce the length of his military service from four months to twelve days, on the condition that he plays for the national team when called upon by the Sports Administration in the next five years. However, prioritizing his professional career, he declared his intention in January to be excluded from the WBC. Ryan Rowland-Smith, a WBC color commentator, said, “he’s lost the fanbase.” Under pressure, Chang reversed course and joined the roster.

Bombing campaigns

After losing its opener against Panama, Taiwan faced Italy in the second matchup. In the first inning, a homer by former Boston Red Sox Isliduan Tahai (林子偉) of Bunun gave Taiwan a 1-0 lead. Italy then pulled ahead 7-5, but Chang, an Amis, hit a two-run bomb in the bottom of the sixth inning to tie the game. In the eighth inning, Paiwan catcher Kungkuan Giljegiljaw blasted a three-run shot to essentially seal the 11-7 victory. DPP legislator Ying-jin Chen noted that the sluggers spearheading the efforts were all indigenous. “Chinese Taipei” was neither “Chinese” nor “Taipei.”

In the following game against the Netherlands, with the bases loaded in the second inning, Chang smashed the ball over the left-center field fence, hitting a grand slam (滿貫砲; the last character means cannon). The player, once widely criticized, took the country by storm. Fans are now calling him the hero of Taiwan.


Photo Credit: CPBL.

Chang is comforted by hitting coach “Chacha” Peng after Taiwan loses to Cuba.

Chang’s performance and visible enthusiasm about the game was critical in the change in perceptions. Tyler Maun, WBC’s Pool A play-by-play announcer, said, “If Yu Chang had shown up after initially saying this year he wasn’t going to play, and being, I don’t want to say forced, but if he had…struck out eight times, and not look invested, it looks entirely different.”

For team and country

Fully invested in the tournament, Chang defended himself against charges of selfishness. After his home run against Italy, Maun saw him “kissing his jersey as he came around third,” displaying his love for the team. He also said that most importantly, “We were able to win. This victory is better than our individual performances.” He later stormed into the locker room shouting “Team Taiwan!” after thumping the Netherlands. And he thanked fans for “pushing him after rejecting the call [to play].” He continued, “Without fans, I wouldn’t have had this performance.”

Chang attained a 1.438 OPS (on-base plus slugging), winning Pool A MVP honors and making the All-Classic Team. When Cuba ended Taiwan’s hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals, Chang broke into tears. The country is, to borrow T. C. Locke’s words, more than a part of Chang, and Chang more than a part of the country.

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TNL Editor: Bryan Chou (@thenewslensintl)

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