Priciest free agent in KBO unfazed by future

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Priciest free agent in KBO unfazed by future


NC Dinos infielder Park Sok-min at the Masan Baseball Stadium in Changwon, South Gyeongsang. [NC DINOS]

After playing for the Samsung Lions for 10 years, Park Sok-min moved to the NC Dinos in November with the most expensive deal for a free agent in the Korea Baseball Organization history.

Including an option, the 30-year-old inked a four-year contract worth a cool 9.6 billion won ($7.9 million).

The addition of Park makes the Dinos the top title contender for this upcoming season.

The Dinos, which finished second in the 2015 regular season, had the best offense in the league last year, marking a .289 batting average and collecting 168 home runs.

With 2015 KBO MVP Eric Thames deciding to stay on and Park, who last year recorded a .321 batting average and 26 home runs, joining the Dinos, the Changwon-based club is expected to be a force.

Among the top four teams last year, the Dinos are also the only team to be going into this season without a major loss in their lineup.

While the 2015 Korean Series champion Doosan Bears are losing outfielder Kim Hyun-soo to the Baltimore Orioles, the Samsung Lions will be down Park and closer Lim Chang-yong. The Nexen Heroes saw their slugger Park Byung-ho go to the Minnesota Twins, while also losing outfielder Yoo Han-joon and closer Son Seung-lak.

At the Dinos’ first meeting of the year in Changwon, South Gyeongsang, on Jan. 11, Park said he isn’t stressed about his contract, and expressed confidence in his team’s ability to win the title. The two-time Golden Glove winning third baseman received loud cheers from fans when he said he will engrave the Dinos’ slogan “justice, honor and respect” onto his heart.

Q. Was your introduction speech at the year’s first meeting pre-prepared?

A. I was actually embarrassed when team staff asked me to speak because I wasn’t prepared. I was just sitting at the meeting, but I realized that the team puts new players on the stage to introduce themselves. But suddenly, I remembered the Dinos slogan, which I’d seen in a restroom at the Masan Baseball Stadium. I was fortunate to remember it.

Are you feeling pressure now that the Dinos are considered this season’s top title contenders because you joined the team?

Not at all. When I was with the Lions, I heard similar evaluations every year.

What about signing the most expensive FA contract?

I don’t feel very stressed over the contract. But I recently read a story that said fans in Changwon had hung up a banner to welcome me to the city, and that makes me feel a little pressure. I started to prepare the season earlier than normal to make sure I do well. I think everything will go well if I perform like I’ve been doing before, though many people told me it won’t be easy.

What’s been your impression of the Dinos in the past?

They were a strong team. I felt the team works like well-oiled machine. Since they performed very well, I admit that I was scared when I faced them last year.

Have you prepared anything special for when you face your former team, the Lions, this season?

I haven’t (laughs). This time of year, I usually gain weight. At last year’s spring camp, I lost so much weight really quickly, which didn’t work well for me. So this year, I will lose weight more slowly.

You are known for your sense of humor and tendency to act silly. Are you ready to show that to the Dinos as well?

Baseball doesn’t stress me out, but I feel pressure to be funny (laughs). I don’t know whether I can have more funny moments. But whatever I show, my top priority is playing baseball well.

What’s your personal goal for this season?

In the past, I had set of specific stats for the goal, such as getting at least 100 RBIs every year. But now, I feel that playing all 144 games without an injury is important. I believe that good records will follow once I actually play in all my games.

What do you want to say to Dinos fans?

I want fans to visit the stadium as many times as they can. I will entertain you, and I’m ready to deliver some good presents this autumn. My concentration level goes up when there are more fans. [laughs]

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