A baseball player showing a season of exceptional performance may be called lucky. If he performs well two years in a row, however, his skills deserve recognition. Park Byeong-ho, 27, a slugger of the Nexen Heroes in the Korean professional baseball league, is being reborn as "Korea`s cleanup hitter."
Park, who was named the most valuable player (MVP) last year by hitting .290 with 31 home runs and 105 runs batted in, showed an upgraded performance this year, hitting .317 with 37 home runs and 117 RBIs. If the current pace continues, he has a high chance of grabbing the MVP title for the second consecutive year.
In Games 1 and 2 of the semi-playoffs earlier this week, Park strutted his stuff as Korea`s cleanup hitter. Although Game 1 was his first post-season match, the Heroes slugger hit a home run to the center of the fence against the Doosan Bears` top starter Dustin Nippert in the first inning. In Game 2, he had no hit in the first three opportunities at bat. Then, Park was walked in the eighth inning and advanced to the first base after being hit by a pitched ball. In the two games, he got on base five times out of nine at-bats.
"It was extraordinary," Heroes manager Yeom Kyeong-yeob said of Park`s home run in Game 1. "He was a little bit off timing because Nippert`s ball was very fast. But Park batted the ball with power. It is the evidence that his swing trajectory is so good." Yeom continued to praise Park, saying, that he has such a good swing mechanism that he is capable of hitting more home runs that most other hitters. "Seeing from the speed and softness of his swings, he is comparable to Lee Seung-yeop (Samsung Lions) in his best days." Asked to compare Park with Shim Jung-soo, a retired slugger with 328 career home runs, Yeom said Park is better.
Hitter-turned baseball commentators were of similar opinions. Park Jae-hong, an MBC Sports Plus commentator with 300 career home runs, noted that Park`s ability to shift balance enables him to hit it right even when he is off timing. Kim Jae-hyun, an SBS-ESPN commentator who was nicknamed "Cannon Hitter" in his heydays, said, "Park switched to short swings after seeing a few of Nippert`s pitches. He has a natural talent of finding a sense of rhythm depending on which pitcher he is playing against."
Lee Sung-yong, a commentator for XTM who once teammates with Park before retirement, praised him for having "sincerity and a good mind, let alone skills. He has a potential to hit 40 to 50 home runs starting from next season. Shim Jung-soo sent 53 balls over the fence in 2003 with swings that pulled the balls. As Park is capable of hitting home runs even by hitting to the opposite field, he can produce more homers."