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Hanwha's Carlos Villanueva plays last game in Korea

Posted September. 30, 2017 07:38,   

Updated September. 30, 2017 07:46

The baseball player lowered the head towards the main umpire as he left the mound. Holding his cap in hand, he waived his hands to send greetings to fans sitting around the first base section at his team’s home turf. As if vowing to never forget the fans’ cheering, he tapped the right hand on his left chest a couple of times. He exchanged greetings one by one with his teammates and coaching staff who were waiting for him in the dugout.

Carlos Villanueva (34), an expat pitcher of the Hanwha Eagles, played his last game in the KBO league at a home game against the Kia Tigers on Thursday. Watchers say both Hanwha and Villanueva have not been the successful match in this season. During his Major League experience for 11 seasons from 2006 to 2016, he received keen attention along with his pay, the highest among the expat players in the KBO League. However, the pitcher failed to display satisfactory performance at his 20 games, posting five wins and seven losses with an ERA of 4.18. The Hanwha Eagles itself has also gained the disgrace of “failures in autumn baseball for 10 consecutive years.”

Nevertheless, watchers in and outside the baseball community say Villanueva has lived up to his fame as a former “Big Leaguer,” whenever he played baseball or behaved in and outside ballparks. On Thursday, he didn’t bother to give an interview prior to the game, where he said farewells to his Korean fans. The next day after his last game, he left for the Dominican Republic to take care of his wife in her last month of pregnancy.

Spending a season in the KBO league was a special experience to the pitcher. “Baseball is the same, be in the United States or Korea. I thought to myself that it is better to take on challenge, rather than regretting for not coming to Korea,” Villanueva said, recollecting the time he decided to come to Korea. “With many memories and ample experience in Korea, I have been ‘super happy.’ It was the first time that I have suffered many injuries and deeply engaged in bench clearing in a single season. It was a special year in many ways.”

Having ended his time in the KBO, Villanueva prepared a gift to his team, which he used to write his thoughts on Hanwha’s operational system. “I jot down my thoughts on the overall system, including medical care and training. I thought that it is important for the KBO league to develop its own strengths, rather than copying the practices in the Major League.” When asked to disclose it, he said with a smile, “Now is not the right time. Changes take time. The team will display the results someday.”

“I have never mentioned (retirement) by myself,” he talked about his future. “I will decide after discussing with my family if I would be capable of surviving one more season.”

“Don’t be afraid to challenge,” Villanueva said as he gave words of advice to promising Korean baseball players who dream about moving to the Big League. It must have been the very slogan he chanted to himself in a foreign land halfway around the world.

Hong-Gu Kang windup@donga.com