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Pitcher Park joins slugger Lee on Japanese team Orix

Posted December. 21, 2010 10:37,   


Baseball pitcher Park Chan-ho will play in Japan next season rather than in the U.S. or Korea.

Park, 37, will join the Orix Buffaloes to join compatriot Lee Seung-yeop, 34, who signed with Orix after spending five seasons with the Yomiuri Giants. Park is considered Korea’s greatest pitcher and Lee the greatest batter, so anticipation is rising over their joint entry into the Japanese team.

Park will hold a news conference Tuesday to announce his signing of a one-year deal with Orix. Upon arriving in Korea on Nov. 24, he told reporters, “I’ve had a tough choice after the conclusion of this past season. I’ve received invitations from some four teams in the (U.S.) Major League Baseball.”

He also hinted at the possibility of playing in Korea, but said, “I’ve also thought of playing in Japan.” He seemed more inclined to remain in the U.S. majors but eventually opted for Japan in the end.

Park chose Japan because no American team gave him a satisfactory offer. The most important thing for him was whether he could continue to play in the majors, not the minors.

A contract with no guarantee of playing in the U.S. majors was seen as a big burden for Park, who will soon turn 38.

His decision was apparently influenced by his wife Park Ri-hye, a third-generation Korean Japanese. Most of the pitcher’s in-laws live in Japan.

His joining of the Buffaloes has effectively increased the chance that he will conclude his career in Korea, something which he has talked of. Park’s possible move to Korea was discussed after last season, but he cannot play in Korea next year under the existing system.

If he participates in the rookie draft next year, he is eligible to play in the Korean league from 2012. Park effectively secured an option to enable him to enter his name in the Korean draft while playing in Japan next season without having to wait.

In 1994, Park opened the era of Korean players in the U.S. when he joined the Los Angeles Dodgers. He steadily improved every year and went 18-10 in 2000, and won more than 10 wins a year from 1997 to 2001.

Despite nagging injuries and slumps, he broke the record for most wins by an Asian-born pitcher in the U.S. majors (124) held by Japan’s Hideo Nomo.

Park will play with slugger Lee on the same team for the first time since the 2006 World Baseball Classic. At the time, Park was both a starting and relief pitcher for the Korean national team while Lee hit five homers.

The two’s stellar performances helped Korea beat Japan twice and advance to the semifinals.