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Choi Hee-seop, Treated as Lucky Charm

Posted July. 12, 2004 22:16,   


“Choi Hee-seop and the rest.”

This sentence describes how actively Korean players have performed in the Major League, which finished the first half on July 12. Choi (Florida Marlins) showed off his talent, as did his height of 196 cm. In contrast, “Big Brother” Park Chan-ho (Texas Rangers) and Kim Byung-hyun (Boston Red Sox), who is rated as “the most competitive player,” had the worst first halves, while Seo Jae-weong (New York Mets) and other players had mediocre first halves.

From “Unprepared Rookie” to the Main Batter—

Choi spent the end of last year and the beginning of this year not by resting but by training alone at Kyongnam Namhae Camp. He started batting practice at dawn, slashing the sea-winds tens of thousands of times. When he left for the U.S. in February, he showed his darkened hands full of calluses. He was satisfied with the training, saying, “I stayed one more month than usual at the Namhae Camp and focused on the weak points in my swing. The results of winter training were so good that they even surprised me.”

When the season started, his efforts paid off. After changing his batting form from a crouching one to a straight standing one, he produced longer hits. During the month of April, his swing was amazing, with a batting average of 0.295, nine home runs, and 18 RBIs. In May, his home runs decreased, but he hit more doubles. He was a “vital player” to the team since he produced whenever the team needed him.

His numbers for the first half of the season are a 0.275 batting average, 14 home runs, and 35 RBIs, which are distinguished numbers for a second-year player. In particular, considering the fact that he was excluded from the starting lineup when the opposing starting pitcher was a lefty, his numbers are superb. Manager Jack McKeon likes Choi, saying that he is like a lucky charm to the team.

Injury, Conflict, Poor Showing—

If one picks “overpaid players in this year’s Major League,” Park Chan-ho, who earns $13 million, and Kim Byung-hyun, who signed a two-year $10 million contract, will be competing for first and second place. Both players, who have been injured and out of the game since May, are in rehabilitation training, but they have lost the trust of teammates and the coaching staff.

Manager Buck Showalter, who put the Texas Rangers at the top of the American League West Division with 49 wins and 37 losses even after sending their superstar Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees and without Park, seems not to want the unreliable Park in his starting rotation.

Kim Sun-woo (Montreal Expos), who has bounced back and forth between starter and reliever, is also still unreliable, and Seo Jae-weong is becoming an “exact 50 percent winning percentage pitcher.” Bong Joong-keu, who was traded to Cincinnati, is still a “rough stone” that needs polishing.

Sang-Soo Kim ssoo@donga.com