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Starter or Benchwarmer?

Posted February. 15, 2005 22:39,   


The off-season in the eat-or-be-eaten world of Major League Baseball is finally over, and spring training is once more upon us.

The New York Yankees, the Cincinnati Reds, and the newly established Washington Nationals will lead off on February 16, with the remaining teams following suit on February 17 and 18.

A total of nine Korean players will be participating in the Big League training camps this year. They’ve been preparing throughout the winter, honing their bodies and minds with a combination of training and rest. Now they will begin the charge toward the new baseball season.

Choi Hee-seop (L.A. Dodgers), the first Korean to become a Major League hitter, is chafing at the bit to begin the 2005 season. After being traded to the Dodgers last year, he shared the first base spot with big-gun Shawn Green (Arizona Diamondbacks). Now that Green has been shipped out, Choi will be the undisputed starting first baseman.

L.A. regional media tends to devalue Choi, characterizing him as “one-half of a player,” but the Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta stands on Choi’s side. In an interview with mlb.com, the official Major League Baseball website, he emphasized Choi’s future potential by saying, “Many people have the wrong idea about Choi Hee-seop. We’ll be satisfied if he plays as well as he did last season (15 HR, 46 RBI). Consider his young age.”

On the other hand, Park Chan-ho (Texas Rangers), the “big brother” of Korean-born major leaguers, must rebuild his reputation this year. Since signing a $65 million, five-year contract with Texas, he’s only recorded 14 wins in three years. The Dallas Morning News reported on February 14 that if Park does not prove successful this year, Texas may let him go early in spite of the resulting financial loss.

Fortunately, Park, who suffered from numerous injuries over the past few years, regained his 150km-range pitch speed at the end of last season. For Texas, a team with a strong batting line-up but a relatively weak starting rotation, Park’s recovery is crucial if it is to advance into the postseason.

Kim Byung-hyun, who played in just six Major League games last year, is looking at a grim situation. Boston has no lack of starting pitchers. With ace Curt Schilling leading a strong group composed of David Wells, Matt Clement, Wade Miller, Tim Wakefield, and even Bronson Arroyo, there’s no room for butting in.

After failing to deliver as a starter, Kim is likely to be relegated to the bullpen. It’s even possible that he will be traded since several teams are eyeing him for his experience as a closer, despite his high salary.

If things remain on their course, rookie Koo Dae-sung is certain to make his Major League debut in the opening game of the season. During the exhibition games, he needs to set a high priority on grasping American players’ batting styles and the home plate umpires’ strike zones, rather than on his own performance.

Sang-Soo Kim ssoo@donga.com