Kwon hopes his passion will let him soar with the Eagles
The 32-year-old lefty played 122 innings in 78 games and threw 2,098 pitches, making him No. 1 among relief pitchers in the league.
Eagles fans call him “Spark” for his passion and the sacrifices he makes for the team, while other fans mock him as a “slave” of the Daejeon-based club, which finished sixth in this year’s KBO League.
Kwon finished this season with a record 9-13, six holds and 17 saves with a 4.98 ERA. He had career bests in wins and saves, but at the same time, the 2008 Beijing Olympic gold medalist pitcher had the most losses in his career.
He has won six Korean Series titles in his 12 seasons with the Samsung Lions. He was one of the league’s top relief pitchers, topping the KBO in holds in 2009, but to take a new step forward, he joined the Eagles after signing a four-year deal worth 3.2 billion won ($2.7 million).
Kwon said he was tired but happy to be on the mound pitching for his new team.
Q. This year is coming to an end. What can you say about 2015?
A. My body was tired, but I pitched with joy. This year, I have played for a team other than the Samsung Lions for the first time in my career. I prepared a lot and had some expectations, but the time really went fast. I enjoyed playing baseball while getting avid support from the fans.
Were you tired from frequent appearances on the mound?
Of course, that was a tough time. At the end of the season, I felt difficulty even raising my arms. But I think this kind of role will be given to anyone. I pitched happily as a pitcher for the Eagles. In the past, I had to think whether I should really go to the field and pitch on the mound. But now, I’m happy to go to the baseball stadium.
Is there a game you can’t forget this year?
Games where I played poorly actually remain in my head. But this helps, because when you remember what you have done wrong, you won’t repeat it next time.
What was regretful this year?
It has to be my stats. This year, I feel a little regretful about my ERA. It’s been a long time since I got an ERA over 4.00. I want to lower it next year.
What do you think your role is in the Eagles?
The most important thing is the team’s performance. My role is to play consistently and defend our lead. I think managing my body is important. I want to stay healthy for the entire season.
This season, there was an occasion when manager Kim Sung-keun touched your chin during the game. What can you say about that?
When I look back at this season, that particular situation still pops into my head. I also laughed when someone posted a parody of that moment online. Normally, Kim doesn’t talk with players, though he cheers up players coming out from the dugout. I think Kim touching my chin was some kind of message to cheer me up. I think he touched it two or three times, but I don’t exactly know how much he touched my chin at that moment (laughs).
The Eagles have signed free agent relief pitchers like Jung Woo-ram and Shim Soo-chang. Do you feel that some of the burden has been lifted from you?
I don’t think having good pitchers takes a load off my shoulders. Since Jung and Shim are very good pitchers, it serves as a stimulator, and I feel I should try harder. With Park Jung-jin and Yoon Kyu-jin also in the bullpen, we will be better.
Besides improving the team’s performance, what’s your personal goal for next season?
I want to keep a 2-point ERA until the end. Personally, I don’t care about titles or win-loss records. Of course, there is going to be a big possibility of losing when I give up runs. In order to get holds or saves, there has to be a certain situation. But for the ERA, that depends on my personal ability, and therefore, it will be a good measuring tool for my performance.
You are the father of three children - a son and two daughters. How do you fit family life in with your career?
Since it takes a lot of money to raise children, I won’t be having another one (laughs). My wife majored in flute, and she planned to study overseas, but she gave up her dream to support me and raise our three children. She really does all the hard work. My son is 4 years old, and if he wants to play baseball, I won’t stop him. I don’t know whether he has enough talent or not, but he does throw his toys pretty far.
What can you say about receiving a Prime Minister’s citation on Savings Day on Oct. 27?
When I was single, I gave all of my money to my mother. After marriage, my wife is now handling the money. I’m not a lavish guy who spends money everywhere. When I gave my mom an allowance, she said she couldn’t spend that money because it was money coming from her son’s arm.
What have been the most memorable moments in your career?
As a baseball player, I had my best pitches from 2007 to 2010. My performance was at its highest at that time, but I have never experienced this much support and love from fans until this year. If I had to pick my best moment in my life so far, I want to answer that it hasn’t happened yet.
BY SEO JI-YOUNG, JOO KYUNG-DON [email@example.com]
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