Posted January. 20, 2010 08:36,
The Busan Lotte Giants and the Seoul LG Twins leave for Saipan today to begin offseason training, the final two of Koreas eight pro baseball teams to do so this year.
All eight teams will train in Japan. The Daegu Samsung Lions, the Gwangju Kia Tigers and the Daejeon Hanwha Eagles will begin training in Hawaii but move to Japan early or in the middle of next month. Players will thus build up their physical strength in Hawaii and hold scrimmages and exhibition games in Japan.
Just four or five years ago, most Korean teams chose Hawaii, the U.S. mainland or Australia for training. Japan, however, is now the preferred venue.
○ Why Japan?
Hawaii used to be the most preferred destination for offseason training, but only Hanwha will practice there this year. The Eagles had initially selected Japan but could not get a stadium to practice in since many other teams also chose Japan.
The Eagles will leave for Okinawa Feb. 18 for scrimmages against the Lions, Twins and the Incheon SK Wyverns.
So why is Japan the preferred site for offseason training by Korean teams?
The first reason is geographic proximity. Samsung manager Sun Dong-yeol said, If you consider only weather conditions, the U.S. mainland or Hawaii is better. But going to the U.S. takes too long. Players also face difficulty due to jetlag.
Japans provincial governments are also aggressively attracting Korean teams to practice in their regions. The governments not only provide support to the teams but also give discounts on stadium rentals.
In addition, Korean teams can easily scrimmage each other in Japan since so many of them are training there.
○ Higher baseball profile
After setting up training camp in Kokura, Japan, in 2005, Kim Kyung-moon, manager of the Seoul Doosan Bears, was furious. His players arrived at the stadium of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks after a one-hour bus trip to scrimmage the Hawks minor league team. The Hawks, however, asked that the game be called after seven innings due to lack of pitchers.
I felt the Hawks looked down on Korean baseball, Kim said. I pledged to beat Japan in any game.
At the time, Korean teams almost needed to beg their Japanese counterparts for a scrimmage. That has changed, however, with Koreas raised status in global baseball.
Korea advanced to the semifinals of the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006, won the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, and was runner-up in last years World Baseball Classic.
The Bears will train in Miyazaki and hold eight scrimmages against Japanese teams. Certain Japanese teams such as the Saitama Seibu Lions and the Hawks have asked the Bears to hold scrimmages between first-string teams.
The Twins and the Wyverns will hold their offseason training in Okinawa and scrimmage Japanese teams there.
The Giants will hold an exhibition game versus their sister team Hawks in Fukuoka Feb. 28. Both teams had fielded their second stringers in the annual game through last year, but will play their starters in this years contest.
○ SK spends the most on offseason training
Each Korean team spends around 800 million to 900 million won (709,534 to 798,226 U.S. dollars) on offseason training, which lasts 40 to 50 days. Around 50 players also attend training camp.
SK, famous for its intensive training regime, will spend more than one billion won (886,917 dollars) on training camp this year and deploy 73 players.
Wyverns manager Kim Sung-keun defended the higher spending on training, saying, Many of our players will participate in offseason training. But this wont cause serious financial damage to management because we didnt sign any expensive free agents.