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Cho Sung-min Wishes to Remain Baseball Player Forever

Posted July. 06, 2003 21:53,   


"Would you spare some time for interview?"

"OK. But I don`t think I can make any headline in the future…"

Contrary to the expectation, an interview was easily arranged with Cho Sung-min. Cho has been avoiding the public attention these days. On July 1, one day after the second drafting, I could meet him at his office in Dokok Dong, Seoul. He welcomed me, saying, "This interview could serve me as an opportunity to look back on my baseball career. It won`t hurt me, I guess."

The interview lasted for about two hours, a short time to summarize his baseball career. But during the meeting, he calmly reviewed his career.

○ Cho and Other Star Pitchers

When Cho went to Shinil High School, he was one of the "Big Threes," along with Lim Sun-dong and Son Kyung-soo. Cho led his team to two championships in his senior year. Chan Ho Park, a major leaguer pitching for the Texas Rangers, threw faster balls, but was an underdog in comparison with them.

"In those days, I valued Lim highest. He was literally a superstar. His straight pitches and sliders were the works of art. I always thought I was the best at that time. But I felt Lim was the only rival of mine."

When asked about his relationship with Park, a disappointment appeared on his face. "We were really close to each other. We talked to each other frequently. We maintained the relationship even when Park went to Hanyang University. But something happened, and I felt stabbed in the back. Park got to sign up a contract with the LA Dodgers. But he did not call me at all. He just left without any word. I thought he was my friend, but he seemed to think differently."

○ Oh, my goodness!!! Injury, injury, injury!!

In 1995, the most renowned Japanese pro baseball team Yomiuri Giants hired Cho. It was his first, but last pinnacle. Whenever he took the mound, he shut out the whole game till the end. His fastball reached up to 149 km, and his curveballs were threatening. He won seven games in the first half of the 1995 season, and marked his place in the Giants` lineup.

The moment came on July 23, 1995. It was an All-star game held at the Lotte Marlines home stadium. "From May, I began to feel something wrong with my arm. During the first half, I threw out six games, three of which were shutout victories. I stretched myself too thin."

The worsening condition emerged to the surface in the All-star game. "I was supposed to throw the last one inning. When I threw a fastball, which led to a strikeout, I felt something`s got broken in my arm. The fortune turned its back on me. In the bottom ninth, our team made out a tie, and I had to pitch more."

In the 10th, he struck out the first batter. But he felt his arm distorted again. He threw the four consecutive balls in a row for the next hitter. His All-star team`s pitching coach got on the mound.

"I told him I could not pitch any more. But the Japanese coach pretended not to hear me. I knew what he had in mind. Our team had only Sasaki left. He wanted to spare his man."

His arm ligament already got torn apart, But he kept throwing. His fastballs just hovered around 110km. No wonder he could not throw fastballs with his arm torn apart.

After the game, he did not take the mound for the rest of the season. Instead, he had to take the tedious rehab process. He got two operations on his arm, and repeated rehab programs and games.

"I threw a couple of games after the surgeries. I took medicine whenever I threw. I took the medicine even when training. I was afraid I might feel pain. For two years, I thought I took antiphlogistic almost every day."

○ My Love, My Career

Last October, Cho voluntarily resigned himself from the Giants. At that time, his contract with the club was valid for one more year. But he did not like the implicit discrimination in the team and needed a new environment.

He persuaded the Giants, saying, "I really want to enjoy baseball in the United States. I will not return to Japan. Please let me go."

His plan to join a US major league team ended up in a pipe dream. A domestic violence erupted between him and his wife, and his second child was born in March.

He really wanted to play even in Korea. That was why he applied for drafting on April 29th. Doosan and LG, the two teams that had the priority, passed out on him. On June 29th, one day prior to the second drafting, he withdrew his application himself.

"I just wanted to save my last pride. Hyundai and LG showed some interest, but were not so active. I thought it was not enough. What meaning could I find in begging for a position?"

He confessed he talked with the Yomiuri quite recently. But the club wanted Cho to prove his ability. Cho, however, was not sure how well he could do without proper training for a long time. So, he gave up on it, too.

When asked what he would do in the future, he answered, "I wanted to teach children." "I do not coach for a school. I just wanted to teach children my way. It would be called a baseball clinic, if you will."

At the interview, I did not mention a word about his complicated private life. His wife is a very famous celebrity. Thus, personally, I wanted to ask him some questions. But I opted for finding out Cho as a baseball player.

Sang-Soo Kim ssoo@donga.com