Going against all the oddsHer son wanted to be selected for the main lineup on his Little League baseball team, and he was told he should bat left-handed rather than right-handed. Since an outfielder has less emphasis on defense than the infielders, he had to bet on his hitting skill. He began to practice since it is generally understood that being a left-handed hitter is advantageous. He got familiar with hitting left-handed, which may not be as powerful as hitting right-handed, but the swinging path and accuracy were not much different.
Then he began throwing a ball with his left hand. But it was not very successful. When batting, you can hit a ball and make sure it lands in bounds. But when you are pitching, you have to accurately throw the ball to home plate. So it was nearly impossible to go against nature.
Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin succeeded in a seemingly impossible transition. When he was playing in Korea, it was not known that he was actually right-handed. It was revealed when he hit a triple as a right-handed hitter at the Dodger Stadium and was photographed eating a Big Mac with his right hand. His father knew that a left-handed pitcher was rare and had advantages. So Ryu trained himself to pitch with his left hand. Once again, Ryu’s story has the “strict father figure,” an indispensable element in success stories of Korean sports stars. Dodgers commentators have joked, “If he had pitched with his natural right hand, he could throw 120 miles per hour.”
Nineteen-year-old Shohei Otani of the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters kept his pitching and batting skills through ceaseless endeavor, a rare feat in professional baseball. This rookie throws fastballs at 160 kilometers per hour (99.4 miles per hour), and he hit 56 home runs in his high school career. He declared he would pitch and hit on his professional team too. After pitching a game, he played as an outfielder for three or four days. On June 18, he pitched and was the fifth hitter. As much as the fans rave about his play, there are concerns. Japanese media expressed worries that in addition to a physical burden on him, the team may get confused if he alternates between pitching and being an outfielder. But Otani is firm on his dual roles. We are moved by their challenges since they are not just some monster players. In the name of specialization, our lives increasingly become a mechanical part focused on a specific function. Sometimes, I am worried we are missing out on opportunities to develop different skills. In baseball, even the pitchers who play in mid-innings have an order. Their job is to throw a set number of pitches. Recently, pitchers were changed six times in one inning. And the coach who changed the pitchers was Sun Dong-yeol, who stayed on the mound for four hours, 56 minutes in a 15-inning game in 1987.
In a society of speed, everything is in terms of productivity and outcome. We are expected to pull off the highest efficiency in our given field. The grand waves of efficiency and specialty overwhelm the self-satisfaction we may have by nurturing and developing hidden talents in various fields. That’s why I want to give a very big hand to Ryu Hyun-jin for pitching with both hands and Otani for playing in the outfield when he is not pitching.
* The author is a business news writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by YOON CHANG-HEE