Bong sees bigger role on national baseball team

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Bong sees bigger role on national baseball team


National baseball team starter Bong Jung-keun will play a bigger role in the Asian Games this November. By Yang Kwang-sam

With starting pitcher Kim Kwang-hyun unavailable for the 2010 Asian Games, the national baseball team will be counting on veteran Bong Jung-keun to fill the void.

It’s an unexpected turn of events, as the team just found out on Monday that Kim will not be able to participate in the upcoming regional tournament in Guangzhou, China.

The SK Wyverns informed national team manager Cho Beom-hyun and his coaching staff that Kim is recovering from facial paralysis, fever and other symptoms related to high stress, and will sit out the tournament, which starts Nov. 12. The 22-year-old pitcher led the Wyverns in their Korean Series sweep this season, playing an instrumental role as the team dominated the Samsung Lions. He also set a Korean Series record by striking out six consecutive batters in one game.

Cho had been looking to use Kim and Ryu Hyun-jin of the Hanwha Eagles as the top two pitchers in the national team’s starting rotation.

“It’s regrettable,” Cho said upon learning of Kim’s health woes. “I was planning on using him in an important game.”

Bong, who is captain of the national squad and plays for the LG Twins, will now have a bigger role with Team Korea. He’s been in this position before, having proved his ability to come up big in the past.

At a 2009 World Baseball Classic match in Tokyo, Kim struggled early, giving up eight runs in 1 1/3 innings in a game against Japan. The Korean national team ended up losing by a score of 14-2. The loss shook the team to the core and threw off its chemistry. The coaching staff grappled with the issue of who they would start in another WBC match against Japan in the same tournament.

Bong, who started his professional career in 2002 as a relief pitcher with the Atlanta Braves, was given the nod. He pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings against Japan to help Korea take the match 1-0. Bong then put up another solid performance against Japan during the WBC in a 4-1 win on March 17, 2009 in San Diego. The two teams met once again a week later in the WBC finals. Bong was given the start again. He kept Korea in the game, but the squad ended up losing 5-3 in 10 innings.

“We only have one goal in mind for the Asian Games: win the gold medal,” Bong said. “As captain of the squad, I will lead the team so that everyone places the importance of the team before individual goals.”

Korea and Japan are projected as the early favorites to win the gold medal.

By Kim Seek, Jason Kim []
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