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Choo Shin-soo = Ichiro + Matsui!

Posted March. 08, 2005 22:48,   


Back in his Busan High School days, Choo Shin-soo (23) was hailed as the “Second Bong Jung-keun.”

Choo, who is also the nephew of “Little Giant” Park Jung-tae, garnered great expectations as a left-handed pitcher comparable to Shin-il High’s Bong Jung-keun (25, Cincinnati), with a fast ball that approached an incredible 150km/h, a razor-sharp slider, and a curve ball that dropped like a waterfall. When Seattle signed this young pitching sensation for the high sum of $1.37 million that winter, they switched his specialty to hitting. L.A. Dodgers pitching coach Jim Colborn, who was a recruiter for the Far East at the time, explains that while Choo was commendable as a pitcher, his talent as a “five-tool player” (combining precise hitting, outstanding power, a strong throwing arm, base-running speed, and strong fielding ability) was too good to pass up.

Although Choi Hee-seop (26, LA Dodgers) had made the move into the Major League, this was before Ichiro Suzuki (Seattle Mariners) and Hideki Matsui (NY Yankees) began making tsunami waves with their hitting. At the time, the general perception was that an Asian player had a far better chance of success as a pitcher than as a hitter.

But Seattle’s “gamble” has paid off. Choo consistently recorded batting averages of over .300 in his four years in the minors. Invited to spring training this year, he is slugging away in each of his Major League exhibition games.

Choo hit his first home run while playing right field as Ichiro’s substitute against San Diego on March 7. On the following day, against the same team, he started in right field as the fifth player in the lineup and continued his home run streak off of Justin Germano in the first inning with two down and a runner on first.

He was taken out of the game in the fourth inning with a slight pain in his elbow. Choo was scheduled to start in the subsequent game against Milwaukee in the no. 8 slot as a right-fielder, but he ended up staying out of that game as well. After just five at-bats in the exhibition games, he has recorded two hits, both of which have been home runs, for a total of four RBIs.

“I have to be in shape for six months during the regular season, so I volunteered to stay out of the game for health reasons. It looks like I’ll be sitting out for two or three games,” Choo stated, with obvious excitement over his recent success.

Choo has succeeded in his transformation from the “Second Bong Jung-keun” to the “Second Ichiro.” It won’t be long before we see him take the field in the big leagues.

Hwan Soo Zang zangpabo@donga.com