Korean baseball’s old-timers rack up the records
Can age really be nothing but a number?
As the Korea Baseball Organization clubs begin their training camp this week, two players, Hanwha Eagles’ pitcher Song Jin-woo and the Heroes’ catcher Kim Dong-soo, are in their 40s. Four others, the Eagles’ Koo Dae-sung, the Heroes’ Jun Jun-ho, the Samsung Lions’ Yang Jun-hyuk and the SK Wyverns’ Ga Deuk-yeom, will turn the big four-zero during the new season. These veterans, who have played for a combined 100 seasons, will be out to prove in 2009 that age is indeed just a meaningless numerical figure.
The left-handed Song, who turns 43 in February, is so old that three of his coaches are younger than he is. He’s been around so long that he has a teammate, rookie pitcher Kim Joo, who was born in the same year that Song made his KBO debut: 1989.
When he is not being the butt end of age-related jokes in the club house, Song is busy re-writing the KBO record books. Virtually everything Song does on the mound is a record, so much so that one of his several nicknames is “Mr. Records.”
He is already the all-time leader with 209 victories. Next on the list is his teammate Jung Min-chul, who has 161. There is no other active pitcher among the top 10. Song is also the first pitcher to reach 2,000 career strikeouts, but he is keen on a different sort of milestone.
Song is sitting at 2,995 and two-thirds career innings pitched. He could reach the 3,000 mark in one game. Even after he got his 200th win three years ago, Song said, “Pitching 3,000 innings is what I really want to accomplish.” He repeated the same goal after recording his 2,000th strikeout last year.
“I am approaching this season as the last of my career,” Song said. “If I’m not satisfied with myself at the end of 2009, I will hang up my spikes. I’ve always wanted to go out on a positive note.”
On the hitting side, Yang has been doing his own overhaul of the history books.
Yang will likely get another record out of the way in 2009. He is two shy of setting the all-time home run mark: the current record is 340, held by the Eagles’ coach Chang Jong-hoon.
Injuries limited Yang to just 114 games last year and for the first time in his career, Yang failed to reach double figures in home runs, ending with eight. The focus this year is on staying healthy, he said.
“I’m just two homers away and the record will come sooner or later,” Yang said. “For me, the more important thing is to perform to the level that I am capable of, so that I can earn back the respect of the fans.”
Among others, Kim Dong-soo will be the playing coach as catcher, the position largely regarded as the toughest to play in baseball. Jun, the only KBO player with 2,000 career games and 2,000 career hits, will look to the all-time stolen bases record of 548. Koo and Ga will be counted on to provide leadership from their respective bullpens.
By Han Yong-sub JoongAng Ilbo/ Yoo Jee-ho Staff Reporter [firstname.lastname@example.org]