Samsung star deals with win and family lossSaturday was a long day for Samsung Lions’s starter Bae Young-soo, who pitched against the Lotte Giants in the season opening game at Samsung’s home ground in Daegu. Bae led Samsung to a 4-0 win against Lotte, the first shutout in an opening game in the Korean Baseball Association’s 24-year history.
The same day, he sadly watched his grandmother’s last moments six hours after the game was over at Kyungpook National University Hospital. His grandmother had told him the day before to pitch well on the opening game, Bae said.
Bae, 23, swept all awards last season given to professional baseball players: the Golden Glove, Most Valuable Player and Player of the Year.
“No matter what kinds of awards I receive, the honor lasts only a moment. What matters are records for the coming season,” Bae noted.
From his facial expressions and tone of speech, he comes across to many fans as somewhat like a teenager. Although it has been five years since he graduated from high school, his spiky short hair and constant smile make him look like a newcomer. But don’t be fooled. Bae is mentally very mature and his record shows that he is the star of Korea’s professional baseball league.
Bae had a mostly winning record during the regular season with 17 wins and two losses, giving him the highest winning average of 0.895. He also demonstrated his agility and strength when he produced a no hitter over 10 innings in the fourth game against the Hyundai Unicorns in the Korean Series.
Before the season opening, Bae was in the middle of weight training at a sports center in the Suseong district of Daegu.
Remembering his time following last season, Bae said he was called to endless events including award ceremonies and interviews. Even between his many appointments he asked a bodybuilder friend, Mun Seong-ho, to train him, and he underwent four hours of rigorous training daily. He even stopped seeing his girlfriend he met last year.
“I decided not to date until I am 30,” Bae said. Besides watching DVDs from time to time, he said he does not intend to develop any hobbies.
Bae has things that he wants to keep to himself, especially about his family and childhood. He has said he likes the “Forrest Gump” character played by Tom Hanks, someone who achieved much by overcoming barriers.
From sixth grade, Bae grew up with just his elder sister, two years older than him and his grandmother. His taxi driver uncle helped him financially, but he did not hear any words of encouragement from his parents or other support when he was playing baseball.
In high school, he almost gave up playing because of an elbow injury. He swore to himself that he had to be strong after watching other players who received support from their parents.
After reluctantly speaking of his childhood, Bae said, “I envy most spectators who come to the ballpark with their family.”
In the past, Bae, his sister and grandmother lived in a studio measuring 33 square meters (355 square feet). Now Bae receives a 110 million won ($107,212) annual salary and has bought an apartment measuring 116 square meters in Daegu plus a BMW sport utility vehicle.
However, that does not mean that he indulges himself with the money he earns.
Earlier, he said he was going to donate 10 million won worth of gift certificates, which he received as prize money, to welfare facilities in Daegu and North Gyeongsang province.
Asked how much prize money he received, Bae said he picked up about 40 million won. “Setting aside a little bit of pocket money, I would like to use it for the benefit of others,” he said. Since he began playing baseball when he was in his third year in Chilsung Elementary School, Bae stood out as a solid player. He joined Samsung Lions after former Samsung slugger Lee Seung-yeop, his alumnus from Kyungbuk High School, recommended him.
Bae had played exemplary ball at Kyungbuk Middle School. As on most high school sports teams, players go through a certain amount of hazing. But Bae said, “I wouldn’t play baseball if I was going to get beat.” As proud as he had been, Bae was disappointed with his record when he debuted as a pro.
“In the first year, I had no wins. Some called me ‘chicken.’ Then I realized that I had turned pro, and I promised myself to practice as hard as I could until everybody recognized me as an ace. I have just made the first steps in reaching my goal.”
Bae has many good options. Samsung Lions coach Sun Dong-yul, who was considered a “national treasure” in Korean baseball, is coaching him. When he was young, Bae respected Sun so much that he stuck Sun’s photograph on his locker.
Bae now stands 1.85 meters (6.07 feet) and weighs 88 kilograms (194 pounds) and is still growing. He has also added new pitching styles including a slider, half fork and fastball.
“Things are much better now. People have started giving me things for free (smile). I should not be satisfied however. I am learning how to pitch consistently using all intended throws. That’s all,” Bae said.
“Some people think my hair style is old-fashioned, and I agree. Three or four years later, after I continue to make more records, then I will maybe try out a different, better style.”
by Namkoong Wook, Limb Jae-un