Well-paid pitchers fall on hard times

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Well-paid pitchers fall on hard times

The Hyundai Unicorns’ Chung Min-tae and Park Chan-ho of the Texas Rangers share quite a few things in common as pitchers.
Both are from Hanyang University, though Mr. Chung graduated in the year that Mr. Park enrolled.
Mr. Chung was an MVP in 2000 and boasts the highest salary in Korean professional sports ― 740 million won ($635,000). There is no explanation needed for Mr. Park, who is considered one of the best Korean ball players in the major leagues.
The two first met in 1991. Just before Mr. Park was to graduate from Gongju High School, Hanyang University sent him to Busan to prevent pro ball scouts from getting their hands on him. The university sent Mr. Chung along, with a mission to “protect” him.
“Chan-ho was different from other players,” Mr. Chung said. “He got up early to jog and never skipped his push-ups. When the chance arose, he asked about proper pitching form. He was determined to learn.”
“I learned a lot from Mr. Chung,” Mr. Park said. “Mr. Chung worked me out thoroughly and taught me how to handle a batter. That was an eye-opening experience.”
Spending a solid month together, the two ball players grew closer.
Mr. Chung joined the Korean pros, while Mr. Park went on to join the major leagues after two years at Hanyang. When Mr. Park returned to Korea, they made an effort to support each other.
These athletes now share more than their background. Mr. Chung has a 3-6 record with a 5.43 ERA this season while Mr. Park has two wins and four losses with a 5.80 ERA. The reasons for their dismal records are also similar ― the pressure to prove oneself.
“There’s no problem with the power of Mr. Chung’s pitching,” said Kim Si-jin, pitching coach for the Hyundai Unicorns. “The speed of his fastball is no different from last year’s and the power of his changeup is not different either.
“The biggest problem is the pressure he feels as the highest-paid player. He is a little too sensitive to criticism lobbed at him when he doesn’t throw well.”
Mr. Park’s slack performance can be explained similarly. Mr. Park, whose $13 million-a-year salary makes him the team’s highest-paid player, also feels the heat. Media criticism has ruffled him. A desire to make a comeback from a back injury makes him act rashly.
What these two pitchers need is peace of mind. “I’m letting the pressure go. I will only focus on throwing balls in peace,” Mr. Chung says. Echoing him, Mr. Park says, “I will no longer be stressed out.”

by Lee Tae-il
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