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South Korean Ichiro in Seattle

Posted February. 13, 2003 22:56,   



With the fresh hitting sound, the ball zipped between the first and second bases toward the right fielder. Out of the 10 balls in free batting, 6-7 shot through between the first and second. The batting style looks familiar. It`s named the Ichiro zone after the area into which Ichiro bats balls through. Ichiro is the pride of Japan, and now playing in the Major League (Seattle Mariners).

Actually, I mistook him for Ichiro, upon meeting him at the Peoria Ballpark in Arizona, where Mariners are training for the upcoming season. It was Shin S. Choo (21, Stampede) from South Korea. He, who once was a pitcher, is "equipped" with all the things required of a baseball player: left-handedness, tall height, excellent batting skills and running ability. Before Mariners turned him into a hitter, Choo was a pitcher winning the MVP title in the World Youth Championship in 2000 in Edmonton, Canada.

"At first, I got perplexed. I thought why these guys were training me as a batter. I expected to pitch. Then, my coach explained that it is rare for a Major Leaguer to have all of the five tools: hitting skill, power, strong shoulder, defense skill, and fast running. I have all of them, he told me. Then, I understood."

Choo is the player Seattle is pouring resources in to make out another Ichiro. That is why the team joined him in its Major Leaguers` spring training, a player still in the Minor League.

Last year, he surely lived up to the expectations on me; in 140 games, he recorded a 0.302 batting average, 7 homers and 57 points with 32 steals.

Choo had been building up muscles since last 25th with Minor Leaguers at the Peoria. Starting his daily training with the weight training at 7:30 a.m., he warms himself up with running and stretching. He, then, repeats batting and catching as an outfielder. In the spring training, Mariners` pitchers and catchers have already joined, and fielders are expected to join on Feb. 16th, beginning the training in earnest.

Choo promised to himself he would move up to the Major League within three years from arrival in the United States. It is this year that becomes his third year in the United States.

"When I was in Korea, I though I was among the best of the best. When I came over here, I realized almost all of the players are better than me. But, the more I do, the more confidence I get. People say that a person has three big opportunities throughout life. The first opportunity was my starting a career as a baseball player. And I think I am enjoying the second one right now. I am working out next to other Major Leaguers. I will make the best out of it."

The day when he was interviewed, or Feb. 13th, his uncle Park Chung-tae of Lotte belatedly joined Lotte`s spring training due to difficulties in obtaining visa. Choo, upon listening to the news, smiled and said, "My uncle promised to treat me at a wonderful restaurant, if he succeeded in renewing his contract. Now, he`s here with the contract renewed. Think I have to meet him." In the upcoming 25th and 26th friendly "matches" between the two teams, the uncle and nephew will "fight" against each other.

Sang-Soo Kim ssoo@donga.com