Korea’s Lim eyes title win in Japan

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Korea’s Lim eyes title win in Japan

Lim Chang-yong, the Korean closer for the Yakult Swallows in the Japanese professional baseball league, is all about the team - so much so that he has set aside his personal goals in favor of a more team-oriented objective for the upcoming season.

“My first goal for next year is to win the championship,” Lim said at a press conference on Tuesday in Seoul, where he announced his signing with a local management company, IB Sports.

Lim, 34, joined the Swallows of the Nippon Professional Baseball league (NPB) before the 2008 season, after spending 13 seasons in the Korea Baseball Organization.

He has posted 96 saves over three seasons in Japan, including his NPB career-high 35 in 2010. He has shed his ERA and increased his strikeout total in each of those three years.

But the Swallows have not been quite as successful over that period.

Their last championship came in 2001 and they have ranked fifth, third and fourth in the Central League since 2008.

Lim ranked second in saves in the Central League in 2010 and said he wants to top the league in that category in 2011. But that goal, too, will require some team effort.

“I’ve done well in my three years there but I’ve never been first [in saves],” the right-hander said. “But I can’t create save opportunities by myself. I expect our team to be better next year, with a more solid starting rotation. That will create more chances for me to rack up saves.”

After the season, Lim re-signed with the Swallows for two years plus a club option for the third - worth 1.5 billion yen ($18.1 million) for three years. And if Lim wants to test the market in Major League Baseball after two years, the Swallows will give him their blessing.

Lim said he was tempted to go somewhere else, possibly with a more lucrative contract, but he was drawn back to the Swallows because of his teammates.

“When I go to another team and raise the championship trophy, it won’t be with the teammates that I’ve been around all along,” he said. “I want to win with my Swallows teammates and savor the championship moment with them.”

Lim had a successful career with two different clubs in Korea and led the KBO in saves in 1998, 1999 and 2004.

But he underwent reconstructive elbow surgery, commonly known as Tommy John surgery, in 2005. After the procedure, Lim missed most of 2006 and was ineffective in 2007, leading most Korean clubs to believe his career was done.

The Swallows rolled the dice with Lim and the gamble has paid off. The pitcher gave credit to his teammates.

“When I first moved to Japan, I was worried about getting along with Japanese players,” he said. “But everyone, from the players to team staffers, has been really good to me. Once they helped me with my transition, I was more at ease in Japan and I started having fun playing.”

One of his teammates in 2010 was fellow Korean reliever Lee Hei-chun, who has since been released. There will be three more Korean players in NPB next season: pitcher Park Chan-ho and first baseman Lee Seung-yeop on the Orix Buffaloes, and first baseman Kim Tae-kyun on the Chiba Lotte Marines.

The Swallows are in the Central League while the Buffaloes and the Marines are both in the Pacific League. Lim won’t get to face Lee and Kim too often - not that he wants to, though.

“I know the media like to play it up as someone versus someone, but frankly, I’d rather not face Korean players,” Lim said with a smile.

“When I am on the mound trying to close out the game, I really hope Korean hitters don’t come to the plate. I’d just like to meet them outside the stadium,” he added.

Lim was scheduled to depart for Guam later Tuesday to begin his offseason training. In mid-January, he will fly to Japan to begin preparing for the new season at a local sports center, before joining the Swallows for spring training.

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