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Retirement of Park Chan-ho

Posted December. 01, 2012 06:53,   


Ma Hae-young, a former slugger of the Korean pro baseball team Busan Lotte Giants who is now a baseball commentator, played in the 1993 Asia Baseball Championship hosted by Australia. As the oldest player for Team Korea, Ma shared a room with the squad`s youngest player, pitcher Park Chan-ho, who was then a freshman at Hanyang University. Ma was surprised to see Park alternate between a hot and cold bath after training was over. Park was so serious about bathing that he looked as if he was in a rehabilitation program. While putting water into a tub or draining it, Park always did push-ups. After showering, he hanged a tubing band on the bathroom door and pulled it to increase his muscular power and flexibility.

Learning that a strong lower body makes a good pitcher, Park always squat walked up slopes. He was so obsessed about strengthening his lower body that he ran at every opportunity. After joining the Los Angeles Dodgers of the U.S. Major League Baseball, he showed up for practice two hours ahead of time to do personal workouts. On days he was scheduled to pitch, he did number puzzles to increase his concentration. In 2005, he signed a monster contract worth 65 million U.S. dollars with the Texas Rangers for a 5-year, but nagging injuries earned him the inglorious nickname of free-agent bust. Ma said, “Park seems to have suffered frequent injuries after pushing himself too hard to become a free agent. I wish he could slow down and take care of himself at least in the first year (with the Rangers).”

Park joined the U.S. majors in 1997 just three years after going to America. He went on to record double-digit wins for five consecutive years, giving hope to the Korean people in the wake of the Asian financial crisis. Impressed by his fastball speed of nearly 100 miles per hour, U.S. team scouts flew to see him in Korea, which was then an obscure country for baseball. Park also inspired other Korean pitchers to pursue dreams of a U.S. pro career, including Seo Jae-woong, Kim Byung-hyun and Bong Jung-keun. Park and other Korean players enhanced their people`s pride by playing confidently against sluggers in the world`s top baseball league.

With a career mark of 124-98 in 1,993 innings pitched in the U.S. majors, Park announced his retirement Friday after recording the most wins and innings pitched by an Asian-born pitcher in the majors. Fans of the Daejeon Hanwha Eagles, the Korean team that Park played for last year, expressed sadness over his retirement. One fan said, “Park’s mere existence was valuable,” meaning that younger players learned many things from him. The pitcher left a farewell message on his Internet homepage, saying, “I am sorry. Thank you. And I love you.” This is exactly what Koreans want to tell him, too.

Editorial Writer Lee Hyeong-sam (hans@donga.com)