The Passion Of Bàngqiú: Davidson's Forrest Grows In China

  • Name: Forrest Brandt
  • Age: 22
  • Organization: Davidson College, St. David's School

Author: Patrick Kinas, creator.

(Photo courtesy: Tim Cowie/


To understand that word is to understand Davidson Wildcats outfielder Forrest Brandt.

The All-America candidate’s baseball career tracks his family’s heritage. In four short years, the Raleigh, NC native has turned his only Division I opportunity into a life-changing, global experience that has Brandt’s fingerprints stamped like pieces of bark on his family tree.

Bàngqiú. This is the Chinese word for “baseball”.

Over 7,000 miles separate Davidson’s Wilson Field from China. Yet the connection Brandt feels from tiny Davidson College, with an enrollment of around 1,900 students, to the world’s most populous country of over 1.3 billion people feels as close as a next-door neighbor’s house.

To truly recognize how Brandt became who he is requires a passage through time over seven decades ago.

His grandfather, Ben Lai, emigrated from China on a student visa in the 1940s. Lai then joined the U.S. Army as a translator, and then met and married Brandt’s German-born grandmother in San Francisco. Brandt's mother, Christine, is a first-generation American, born in the States.

Brandt began developing a passing interest in China thanks to his grandfather. Stories were told to him of a Far Eastern world that were only cloaked as his grandfather’s voice.

Upon leaving St. David’s with a passion still burning for baseball, Brandt’s worlds began to collide.

“Davidson was the only Division I opportunity I had,” the Wildcat captain said. “It’s turned out amazing. For the moment I first visited, I loved the small environment.”

As it turned out, there was something else that Brandt would come to love about Davidson – beyond baseball.

Davidson College offers both majors and minors in Chinese through its Chinese Studies Department. The interest in Chinese studies has been an area of growth at Davidson over the years.

For the Economics major and Chinese minor, this had great appeal four years ago, as well as the freedom his Wildcats head coach provided.

“The great thing about Davidson and Coach (Dick) Cooke is that in the summer, we can pursue what we want. So after my sophomore year, I decided to fulfill that by going to Beijing. We had contacts with Rick Dell (Major League Baseball’s director of game development), who heads the Asian office in Beijing. I applied for grant through Davidson for funding to go there, received the grant, then I met up with Dell. Everything happened so fast. He was leaving for a trip the next day, so he offered to bring me down to one of their development centers and help coach for a week.”

Within the Chinese youth baseball academies – the Chang Zhou and Wuxi – Brandt was working with teens between 13 and 18 years old, which he likened similar to the academies run in the Dominican Republic.

“They have envoy coaching programs in the summer and other Americans helping there,” Brandt said. “I was at the academies for a week and in China for over two months.”

It’s taken four years of intense studies and focus for Brandt to learn a language that is so complicated.

“I was able to speak to the youth players, although my Chinese wasn’t great,” Brandt recalled. “But I was able to communicate. It was challenging learning their names, so the American coaches gave them funny nicknames which made it easier to remember. By the end of the week, they were able to play in a couple of intrasquad games within the academies.”

Brandt’s Future Meets Past

With graduation looming on May 18th for Brandt, he’s realistic, yet excited about what his future holds.

“I’d love for baseball to work out, but if it doesn’t, my plan is to teach English in China for a year,” Brandt said. “I’ve kept in contact with Rick (Dell) and I’ll have an opportunity to teach and become an envoy coach within the academies.”

A few months ago, Forrest shared a unique moment with his grandfather Ben, now 91, when he was visiting him outside of his Boston home.

“I saw him this past summer and spoke a little Chinese to him,” Brandt said. ““Chinese is difficult to speak and understand. He’s hard of hearing, but his eyes and ears perked up when he heard me talk.”

As this baseball season winds down, the Wildcats are making a hard push toward the SoCon title. The Wildcats are currently a close second behind conference-leading Western Carolina, with Brandt ranked 7th in the league in hitting (.350). The Wildcats close out the season hosting the Catamounts next week in what is shaping up to be a winner-take-all series for the SoCon regular season title.

“This past year has been very special with the successes we’ve had,” Brandt said. “We’re hearing support from alumni and former teammates. They’re keeping up with us. Our assistant coach Andy Carter always tells us who he’s hearing from.”

For Brandt, who was a freshman All-American, his career will end in the Top 10 of numerous Davidson categories, and whether baseball remains in his future after the SoCon Tournament in a few weeks, he will have left an indelible mark on the Davidson community.

There has only been one Major Leaguer born in China, but the baseball world has changed dramatically since Harry Kingman played in his four games for the Yankees in 1914.

When Brandt returns to China this summer, he’ll suit up at the academies hoping to be that extra voice, hit that extra flyball, and throw that extra batting practice pitch that may bring MLB it’s first in a century.

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