Angels prospect Carter playing with idol on Team China

March 9th, 2023

TOKYO -- Ten years ago, Alan Carter knew what he wanted to do. Just 15 years old at the time, the current Angels Minor Leaguer saw Team China playing in the 2013 World Baseball Classic and his dream began to take shape.

"I remember being in class and thinking, 'OK, well, my mom's from China," Carter said earlier this week from Miyazaki, Japan, where Team China was preparing for the 2023 Classic. A recent college graduate, Carter retains a youthful enthusiasm and love for the game that comes through every sentence he speaks.

"I Googled the requirements and I remember one of them saying that just one of your parents has to be born in that native country. So, I was like, 'Technically, that means I'll be good. That means I qualify.' Then I thought after college, whenever I'm eligible, hopefully I could somehow get that opportunity."

It came earlier this winter. Just two days after the Angels had signed Carter as an undrafted free agent out of Lee University, Carter got a call that woke him up. With sleep still in his voice, he answered the phone. It was Team China's biggest all-time star, Ray Chang.

"As soon as he said, 'My name is Ray Chang, I was like, 'No way this is about Team China,'" Carter said with a laugh. "Because I had just signed with the Angels and I know he's not affiliated with the team, so the only other reason would be for Team China. Then he kept on talking and he was saying, 'We want you to possibly come play for us, for Team China,' and in my head I was like there's no way this is happening right now."

This wasn't just any phone call, though: This was Carter's childhood hero. The biggest star in China's World Baseball Classic history, Carter had seen him as a role model growing up.

A young, begoggled Alan Carter. (Courtesy Alan Carter)

"Everyone knows Ray Chang. Are you kidding me? He's the World Baseball Classic Team China legend," Carter said. "If there is a Team China guy that needs a statue built, it's Ray Chang. He's given his blood, sweat and tears to Team China for more than a decade now. He's the heartbeat of China baseball, in my opinion. I think in the future, a lot of people are going to be looking up to him, and we'll be following his footsteps for what he's paved."

An avid baseball card autograph collector to this day, Carter remembered one signature that stands out in his collection. You can probably guess who it was.

Seeing that Chang was on the roster of the Gwinnett Braves near where Carter grew up (he estimates he's attended about 3,000 Gwinnett games), Carter knew he needed the Chinese-American player's autograph. Though Carter even collected Minor League cards, he didn't have one for Chang. So, he chose the only other piece of paper he had handy.

"He signed the ticket from that game. It is still in a binder in my room. I know exactly where it is," Carter said.

When Chang heard the story from his newest teammate, his reaction was simple: "Now I feel old."

That Chang was even able to recruit the young pitcher with a mid-90s fastball -- he had dusted 98 mph before requiring Tommy John surgery in college, a number he's working with Tread Athletics to reach again -- came with a little luck. Great Britain had tried to get Carter on their roster, but Carter assumed the unknown number that kept calling him was spam. So, Chang was given a little nudge by his friend and Team GB pitching coach, Zach Graefser.

"He sent me a picture one day of Alan Carter in his college jersey with his coach. He said, 'You've got to get this guy,'" Chang remembers. "I'm like, absolutely. So I called his coach at Lee University, found it on Google. [The coach] told me [Carter's] story, passed me his number."

The rest could make Chinese history. Though young, Carter likely has the best fastball on the roster. His youth means he could be suiting up for the country for the next 10, 15 or even 20 years if he's anything like Chang.

While Carter may have been thrilled with the call to join the national team, it was also a special moment he could share with his mother and her family, who all still live in the Shenzhen province of China.

"[My mom] was in China when I told her about all this," Carter said. "She was able to immediately tell my entire Chinese side of the family with her literally being there in person. So, that was kind of cool, how that lined up. She's in Shenzhen province right now too, with my uncle and my grandmother right now. Obviously, they're super proud of me and excited for me."

When he told all of his friends, they couldn't believe it either.

"I had just told them that my dream came true of becoming a professional baseball player with the Angels, and 48 hours later I'm telling them, 'Oh wait, yeah, I'm also playing in the World Baseball Classic. They were like, 'Dude, what is your life right now?'"

While Carter has his sights set on playing in this tournament and then reporting to Angels camp, unsure of which Minor League affiliate they'll send him to this season, he already has a vision of what his life may look like when his playing days are done. That's because Chang doesn't just play for Team China, but he also heads up MLB's development program within the country. Carter would one day like to help him grow the sport back in his mother's home country.

"I've actually asked Ray already about the development center and possibly being a part of that whenever my playing career is over," Carter said. "I find it very fascinating and interesting of how and why baseball in China is not as popular as it should be. There's a goldmine ... of talent and players and people that just don't know about the game, when in Japan and Korea, [baseball is like a] religion.

" I mean, I love [Shohei] Otani. He's amazing. And I guarantee you, there's 10 [athletes like him] in China that don't even know the game exists."