In 2019, Alex Chang of Port Washington was an authentic high school baseball superstar.
On the pitcher’s mound, he was nothing short of incredible as he posted a 7-1 record with a 0.93 ERA and a whopping 105 strikeouts in 52 2/3 innings pitched. In the batter’s box he had a ,457 batting average with a 1.247 OPS out of the No. 2 slot in the batting order. In the outfield, he astonished with superlative range and a cannon arm.
“He has been a coaching dream — everything you could want in every situation,” Vikings coach Matt Holzer said. “Every time he was on the mound, we knew we had a very good chance to win. Every time he was at the plate, you could count on him to either get the big hit or start something big. In the outfield, he was the kid who could run any ball down — if the park held it, he got to it.”
On Wednesday night at the Marriott in Uniondale, the Nassau Baseball Coaches Association bestowed Chang with the Diamond Award for pitching, given annually to Nassau’s very best at the yearly awards dinner.
He is the first Port Washington player to win the award and it couldn’t be more fitting. The 2019 Vikings (20-6) reached the Nassau championship series, the first time they played for a county title in 50 years.
“Port Washington is now something to be reckoned with,” Chang said. “We are up there and capable of playing with the best now — and it’s a long time coming. That I got to be a part of our program becoming that? What a great feeling.”
Chang’s exceptional season was not one that everyone expected. He’d never been a strikeout pitcher. He’d never been the go-to guy in every big game. He’d always been a fine hitter, but not one so profound. His story is one of steady dedication to his craft, one that he will continue at Trinity College (Conn.), where he has a chance to be a two-way player.
“As a pitcher, I think I really developed this season,” Chang said. “I learned to pitch people backwards. I learned to hold back some of my pitches until later in the game to give hitters a different look. And I never expected the results I ended up with. To be honest, it was pretty humbling to have this kind of success.”
He said the key that unlocked his potential in this 2019 season involved in believing in himself. “I spent the offseason trying to get stronger, but I kind of invested,” he said. “I believed in the team behind me. I believed that I didn’t have to [nibble]. I believed that the pitches I was going to throw would hit their spots, break the way they were supposed to and get caught if they were hit.”
“He pitched on a more sophisticated level, I thought,” Holzer said. “And there was a confidence about him. Here was a down-to-earth a fine baseball player coming into his own. 105 strikeouts ? He was really something.”
Chang recorded 10 or more strikeouts in six games. He recorded 14 or more in two. Against his 105 strikeouts he walked just 17.
Holzer said he had a feeling about the season Chang was going to have only a few weeks into the season. “We were right there with Hicksville in our division, actually behind them,” he said. “Alex goes out and pitches a complete-game one-hitter with 15 strikeouts [in a 2-1 win] — it puts us in a position to take over and win the division.”
While Chang was recognized for his exploits on the mound Wednesday, his performance as a hitter cannot be ignored. He scored 26 runs, drove in 24 and had 14 extra-base hits, including three home runs. He was a baseball Theodore Roosevelt: he spoke softly and a carried a big stick.
“What happened to me this season was my development,” Chang said. “Every year my velocity ticked up. Every year my command got a little better. This year I was invested in all of it and everything got a little better. But none of my improvements would have meant a thing without the progress our program made.”