Path set for next MLB generationAlthough Korea’s first major leaguers Seo Jae-weong, Choi Hee-seop and Park Chan-ho have retired from the game, they are exemplary figures, on and off the field, for future generations of players.
Seo’s “archery pitching” was his trademark during his career at New York Mets of Major League Baseball (MLB). Thirty-nine-year-old Seo’s pitching style acquired the label because of the way he spread his arms during the wind-up which resembled an archer preparing to shoot. And his pitch repeatedly hit the bull’s eye.
On his debut in 2002, he didn’t allow even a single walk against 103 batters for a year. He was the rookie with the longest no-walk pitching record in MLB history, giving him the nickname of “control artist.”
As the starting pitcher for the Mets in 2003, he marked 9 wins and 12 losses with earned run average (ERA) of 3.82. In his overall MLB career, he had 28 wins and 40 losses with a 4.60 ERA. Although Seo lost his fastball and never recorded more than 10 wins per season in MLB after reconstructive elbow surgery, he stayed in the league for nine years. Seo’s perseverance demonstrated that a pitcher can still throw aggressive balls against MLB giants without his fastball but with sheer determination.
Upon returning to his old home ground at Kia in 2008, Seo marked 42 wins and 48 losses with 4.30 ERA for eight years before announcing his retirement in January this year. For an old-timer who recorded only one win during his final season, retirement was simply inevitable. “I have no regrets,” said Seo.
Choi, 37, the first batter in the Korean baseball history to play in the MLB, recently left Korea for coaching training. Standing at 1.96 meters (6 feet 4 inches), Choi has been nicknamed “Super Asian” since his debut.
Choi kicked off his MLB career at Chicago Cubs in 2002, but a concussion in 2003 eventually halted his upturn. While he recorded 40 home-runs and batting average (BA) of .240 during his four seasons at the MLB, he never recovered fully to play up to his potential. “I simply wasn’t good enough,” said Choi when asked about his MLB performance. Playing for Kia since 2007, his career in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) culminated in 2009 when he hit 30 homers with .308 batting average.
Since then, frequent injury and a performance slump mired his career. His size and his MLB career raised people’s expectations of Choi, filling him with remorse when he couldn’t fulfill those expectations in the KBO. Leaving his glory days behind after retiring in late 2015, Choi plans to receive coaching training in Minnesota and Baltimore.
Park, 48, is currently touring Arizona camps in the United States, mentoring players from KIA and NC. As the first MLB player in the history of Korean baseball, not only was he idolized by his fellow baseball players, but he was also the hope and pride of the Korean people. As the Asian pitcher with the most wins (124 wins) in the MLB history, there are many ‘Park Chan-ho kids’ in Korea today, dreaming of becoming as good as Park.
Park returned home in 2012 after pitching against the big players of MLB for 17 years and played for Hanhwa with Ryu Hyun-jin (LA Dodgers) for a year. Park had a tremendous impact on the history of Korean baseball. He retired from the field in 2012.
It’s been a while since Seo, Choi and Park played in the United States. Their challenge in the MLB involved not only a struggle in the sport, but also a struggle against a language barrier and racial discrimination.
Their struggle, however, paid off when the Korean national team reached the semi-final of the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in 2006 after defeating powerhouses such as the United States and Mexico. Seo, Choi and Park were the key players of the team. Their legacy bore fruit when the team brought home the gold medal from the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and finished second in WBC in 2009.
The 1st generation Korean big leaguers challenged the MLB fearlessly and tasted both success and failure. Their performance was a miracle for many Korean fans and has opened the door of opportunity for 2nd generation Korean major leaguers.
By KIM SEEK [email@example.com]