FREDERICKSBURG, Virginia -- Zhancheng Wu, director of production for the Low-A Fredericksburg Nationals, was a key part of the front office during the team's inaugural season at FredNats Ballpark. He created graphics, helped produce the livestream broadcast and assembled a wide variety of original video content, often with his dog,
FREDERICKSBURG, Virginia -- Zhancheng Wu, director of production for the Low-A Fredericksburg Nationals, was a key part of the front office during the team's inaugural season at FredNats Ballpark. He created graphics, helped produce the livestream broadcast and assembled a wide variety of original video content, often with his dog, Vandy, by his side.
Although his baseball career is still in its early stages, Wu has already come a long, long way. To be exact, 8,192 miles.
The native of Nanning, China lived there until he was 24. Nanning, which Wu equates in size to Oklahoma City, has a tropical climate and is situated in close proximity to China's border with Vietnam. Wu loved sports from a young age, competing in basketball, soccer, track and field and swimming. Baseball, however, was a virtually unknown sport in his city. He didn't even know it existed until watching episodes of "Touch," a Japanese anime series.
"['Touch'] is about Japanese high school baseball," he said. "I watched that and they were so passionate about baseball. I was really interested in the sport. I had never seen it before. I wanted to try it out and I asked my mom to find a baseball team and my mom couldn't find it."
Nonetheless, the seeds were planted. "Touch" had such a profound effect on Wu that, approximately a decade later, he used the internet to become a student of the game. The first games he ever watched were in 2012: prerecorded uploads of the 2011 World Series in which the St. Louis Cardinals stunned the Texas Rangers over the course of seven topsy-turvy contests.
"I fell in love because of that series, it was so dramatic," said Wu. "I learned baseball on the internet. If anything happened I didn't understand, I could go on the internet and search. 'This is the situation that happened. Why was the call like that?' I've been a student of this sport for a long time and still love it."
Wu's autodidactic approach to learning baseball was augmented by being able to play it for the first time. He was a member of his college's club team. The majority of the team's games were slow-pitch softball and played on soccer fields because that's all that was available.
"For me, I think there's a certain zen in the sport even though it's a team sport," he said. "When you step in the batter's box, you can clear your mind and focus on what you do. It's about yourself, the bat and the ball."
After graduating college with a degree in journalism, Wu found work at a Nanning TV news station. As his first year there gave way to his second, he discovered that "every year is the same thing."
"Nothing is really happening in the town that I have the passion to cover," he said. "But sports, I have a big passion, so I went online to search different [United States] school programs that contained sports journalism. So I did my English tests, GRE tests. ... I work as hard as I can. I feel like that's what I want to do. I have to make it happen. Talking about this decision with my family, I told them I really need to make a change. I want to do something I love."
Wu went on to obtain a post-graduate sports journalism degree from Indiana University, and in the process got to see his first professional game in the form of the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians. In December 2017, less than two months after graduating, he traveled to Orlando, Florida for the Baseball Winter Meetings Professional Baseball Employment Opportunities Job Fair. He said his Winter Meetings mind-set was to "just observe," fully expecting to go back to China with more experience and skill. That, at the time, still seemed like a win.
"I remember I was sitting at a round table with everybody. Everybody [else] kept going to interviews," said Wu of the job fair. "I got one call from Alan Ramseyer, who was director of video production for the Double-A Tulsa Drillers. He asked for a cover letter and scheduled a phone interview with me. I remember that was the last day [of the Winter Meetings]."
Wu was soon hired by the Drillers, beginning work as a video production intern in January 2018. He spent two seasons with the club, learning the ins and outs of Minor League Baseball in a fast-paced environment. He said his English improved greatly during this period, because "no one is waiting for you to finish your sentence. I force myself to speak faster, more accurate, because an environment like that is high pressure."
Following the 2019 season, Wu was in search of a new job because he couldn't return to the Drillers as a third-year intern. He said the team assisted any way it could, "trying hard to get me a job." Eventually, he got a call from FredNats vice president of creative services Robert Perry, and after several interviews, landed his current post.
"They had to apply for a work visa for me. A lot of teams don't want to go that route to have to hire somebody," he said. "But Robby and [general manager] Nick Hall and the team owner [Art Silber] helped me get all the paperwork I need and I really, really appreciate that."
The visa process went down to the wire, though. When Wu received notice it was approved, he was three days away from the deadline and had already packed his bags in preparation for a return trip to Nanning. Instead, he went from Tulsa (where he had been living with a co-worker's parents) to Fredericksburg. The 2020 season didn't happen due to COVID-19, but Wu found a silver lining by adopting a dog, Vandy.
"I always love dogs and I think last year was a great time to get one, to train him," he said. "[Vandy] does very well in the press box. He goes to sleep when we're working. He knows nobody's going to play with him then."
Big picture, Wu says his ultimate goal is to "bring value to a Major League team, making their content stand out." But for now, the journey continues.
"It's great. It's awesome," said Wu. "I always tell my friends, whoever asks me, it's probably a dream job. I don't regret to have come here. I love it here and baseball is actually the best thing that happened to me."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.