From baseball to boot camp for star slugger

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From baseball to boot camp for star slugger

Kim Hyun-soo of the Doosan Bears is one of the most popular baseball players in the nation, and one of the best, too. He’s the youngest batting champion in Korea Baseball Organization history and has been the MVP candidate in each of the past two seasons. At 21, Kim hasn’t even entered his prime.

But when Kim shaved his head and donned khakis for military boot camp last month, he was just one of the boys in the crowd.

“One trainee told me I looked just like the baseball player Kim Hyun-soo,” Kim said with a laugh.

Kim and some of his teammates from the 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medal-winning baseball squad had their four-week army training last month, while others will complete theirs early next month. By virtue of being Olympic gold medalists, the young men have been exempted from the mandatory, two-year armed services, and they went through the abbreviated four-week training in Nonsan, South Chungcheong, instead.

Kim was joined by his Doosan teammate Ko Young-min, Hanwha Eagles pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin, Kia Tigers duo Yun Suk-min and Lee Yong-kyu, and Lotte Giants Lee Dae-ho. Two SK Wyverns stars, Jeong Keun-woo and Kim Kwang-hyun, will finish their session on Jan. 7.

In Korea, male athletes who win an Olympic medal or an Asian Games gold medal are excused from conscription, if they haven’t served already. The government once granted special exemptions for the national football team after it reached the last 16 of the 2002 World Cup, but has not made exceptions for the baseball squad that reached the semifinals at the 2006 World Baseball Classic and the final at the 2009 competition.

But Kim Hyun-soo and Co. were the lucky ones, though they might not have been so recognizable in their new uniforms.

Kim said once everyone realized who he was, he was busy signing autographs. He was even named squad leader and received an award for being an exemplary trainee. But it wasn’t always fun in the camp.

“They don’t let you off the hook just because you’re a ball player,” Kim said. “Once, I got disciplined for using the wrong language to address our drill instructor.”

Lee Yong-kyu, starting right-fielder for the Beijing team, said he loved the cafeteria food but picked up on more than just fine cuisine on the base.

“Just by meeting so many different people from different backgrounds and occupations, I really learned a lot,” he said.


By Oh Myung-chul [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]

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