Go to contents

Pitcher Park Rides Rocky Road in 16-year Career

Posted November. 24, 2009 07:34,   


Park Chan-ho of the Philadelphia Phillies was all smiles in his news conference upon arrival in Korea Nov. 10.

The 36-year-old pitcher looked confident as he joked, saying he asked Choo Shin-soo of the Cleveland Indians how he fathered a son instead of daughters.

Ten months ago, Park hurriedly returned to Korea and tearfully told fans that he would not play in the World Baseball Classic.

Park has visited Korea after the end of every season since becoming the first Korean to play in the U.S. majors in 1994. The visits by a player who opened a route for Koreans to the world’s top baseball league have always been a hot conversation topic.

A diversity of situations has led him to wear different facial expressions when arriving at the airport. His expression of regret in January transformed into smiles this month, and his news conferences upon arrival at the airport have also reflected his situation at the time of his visit.

Park entered the U.S. majors immediately in joining the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1994, but was demoted to the minors after just two games. After spending the 1994 and 1995 seasons in the minors, he would return to Korea in the offseason but his visits failed to make headlines.

While visiting Korea in 1994 and 1995, he mostly stayed in his hometown of Gongju, South Chungcheong Province, and remained low key.

When he returned to Korea after going 5-5 for the Dodgers in 1996, however, fans and the media began to notice him.

1997 was when Parkmania started in Korea. He went 14-8 and became a national hero. Crowds of fans flocked to the airport to welcome him when he visited Korea Nov. 11 that year, and bodyguards surrounded him not only at the airport but also at the hotels he stayed.

Over his 20-day stay in Korea 12 years ago, he visited the presidential office and appeared on many television shows amid a tight schedule.

He went 15-9 in 1998 and was called up by the Korean national team to play in the Bangkok Asiad. Visiting Korea in October that year, he renewed his commitment to victory by saying, “I never thought about anything but the gold medal.”

After leading Korea to the Asian Games title that year and earning exemption from the military draft, he went 13-11 in 1999 for the Dodgers.

In 2000, he had a career year going 18-11 and consolidating his position as an ace pitcher. Afterwards, Korean journalists competed to cover his Korea visit. In an interview, he confidently expressed his goals of winning 20 games in a season and playing in the World Series.

Park ran into trouble in 2002, however, after signing a free-agent six-year deal worth 65 million dollars to join the Texas Rangers. He went a mediocre 9-8 in 2003, his first year in Texas, partly due to injury and did worse a year later in going 1-4. He visited Korea after the 2004 season, but started his news conference with an apology, saying “I am so sorry to fans.”

When he played in just one game in 2007 for the New York Mets, he visited Korea in secret for the first time.

Which team Park will play for next year has not been determined, and whether he will start is also unclear. This also clouds what facial expression he will wear when he visits Korea a year from now.

The pitcher played in his first World Series last season, but will likely have to change his goal of 20 wins in a season to the most career pitching wins for an Asian player.