PORTLAND – Ray Chang was the unwanted infielder from a small college, who then almost made it to the majors.

He is the Kansas City-born star of the Chinese World Baseball Classic team.

And after a roller-coaster ride the past two years, he has landed in the Boston Red Sox organization, becoming one of the Portland Sea Dogs’ leading hitters.

Meet Raymond Bo-shue Chang, 26, a player easily lost on Portland’s prospect-heavy, international roster.

Portland has jazzy young infielders Jose Iglesias, 20, of Cuba, and Yamaico Navarro, 22, of the Dominican Republic. Both are capable of jaw-dropping plays, but Chang has turned his share of “web gems” in the field, including some snags past third base and cannon throws off his back foot.

Chang is also sometimes confused with Portland’s two Taiwanese players, Che-Hsuan Lin, 21, and Chih-Hsien Chiang, 22.

But Chang is an American, born in Kansas City and now a resident of Leewood, Kan.

Chang’s parents came from Asia, his mother from Shanghai, China, his father from Hong Kong. They met when she was visiting Hong Kong, married and moved to the United States.

“Don’t ask me why they chose Kansas City,” Chang said. “They moved to start a restaurant business and it would probably to be more successful (there) rather than right dab in New York.”

Apparently, the move was a good idea. The Princess Garden restaurant is still open.

As for Ray Chang, he stayed in Kansas City through college, at the small Jesuit school, Rockhurst University, which competes in Division II.

After graduation in 2005, Chang was not drafted, nor signed quickly after the draft. If he wanted to play pro ball, it would be the hard way. With the help of his coach, Chang traveled around the Midwest, attending open tryouts.

At the fifth tryout, in Ida Grove, Iowa – “it had one hotel, one restaurant and one baseball field,” Chang said – he caught a scout’s eye. A week later, on July 4, 2005, the San Diego Padres signed Chang.

“One of those things I was blessed with,” Chang said.

His career took off and by 2007, Chang was the starting shortstop for the Triple-A Portland (Ore.) Beavers. He batted .262 in 78 games and was a call away from the majors.

“You always get reminded of that by family and friends,” Chang said. “But as a player you don’t want to get caught up in that stuff.

“It’s always in the back of your mind that you’re one level away, but you never know. You might be a level away, but you might be one decision away (from not playing).”

Chang can speak from experience. In 2008, he split time early between Triple-A and Double-A when the Padres decided he was not in their plans. He was released in June, two months before his 25th birthday.

The Pirates picked him up and assigned him to Double-A Altoona, although injuries kept him from playing much.

In 2009, Chang’s year began with the excitement of the World Baseball Classic.

In previous years, Chang made strong connections with the baseball operations officials in China. He worked with Major League Baseball, conducting clinics in China before the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

He was asked to play for China in the World Baseball Classic. China played preliminary-round games against favored Taiwan, Korea and Japan.

“One of those lucky situations where I was in the right place at the right time,” Chang said.

Good thing for China. Chang led China to 4-1 upset of Taiwan, recording a home run, two RBI and strong defense at short.

“It was awesome. I think it was China’s first international win,” Chang said. His team did not repeat that success against Korea or Japan.

Returning to spring training in the United States on a high, Chang soon received bad news. He was being demoted by the Pirates to Class A.

“It was tough, but it was more of a wake-up call,” Chang said. “They wanted me to be the veteran guy … but I caught a break. A couple of guys moved around. Got to play every day. Then got called up to Double-A.”

Chang batted .291 for Altoona and became a minor league free agent after the season. He signed with the Red Sox.

“I had a few choices, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about the organization,” Chang said. “I’m glad that I’m here.”

Chang can play every infield position, he lends experience as the oldest everyday player, and also is batting .313.

The guy who was discovered in Ida Grove, Iowa, and shined while playing for China, is making himself at home in Portland, Maine.

 

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]