The Heroes’ new manager anxiously awaits his debut

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The Heroes’ new manager anxiously awaits his debut

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From left: Lotte Giants¡¯ manager Her Mun-hoe, Samsung Lions¡¯ manager Heo Sam-young, Kia Tigers¡¯ manager Matthew Williams and the Kiwoom Heroes¡¯ manager Son Hyuk will make their KBO debut this season. [YONHAP, SAMSUNG LIONS]

After being appointed as a manager for the first time, the Kiwoom Heroes’ Son Hyuk is desperately waiting for the KBO’s 2020 season to start.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the regular season has been postponed indefinitely. Although the 10 clubs’ representatives have been meeting every Tuesday to discuss when the potential start date could be, they have yet to reach a decision on an exact date, and the struggle to settle continues.

Although Son served for years as the SK Wyverns’ pitching coach, he is one of four unfortunate new managers in the KBO eagerly standing by to make their debuts. And these unprecedented times are only adding to Son’s concerns.

“You have no idea how thankful I am for not being the only new manager [in the KBO],” Son said. “I have a lot of thoughts and it’s difficult. But of the 10 clubs, four teams have new managers. If I was the only one, I would be complaining more, but since there are other new managers, I can’t.”

Like all the other clubs, the Heroes are continuing to prepare for the season by training and playing intrasquad games at Gocheok Sky Dome in western Seoul. But even these games and practices are unpredictable and unreliable and have been called off on numerous occasions for safety reasons after players or employees have come down with fevers. Thankfully, these delays have not had too much of an impact, as the Heroes were able to get back to training one day after everyone involved tested negative for the virus.

Although Son considers the safety and health of the players as top priority, at the same time, he is hoping that the KBO will allow the teams to play practice games a week before the season actually starts.

As of the most recent meeting, the KBO is expected to allow teams to play practice games starting from April 21. But depending on the coronavirus pandemic, the season might have to start without any practice games.

“Since this is my first time getting assigned as a manager, I want to try different game strategies during practice games against other teams,” Son said. “We will have to follow the KBO’s decision, but I would prefer [to start the season after] playing practice games.”

Son’s desire to play practice games isn’t just for himself and his hopes for a successful debut. He believes the players also need the practice before the season starts.

“For example, if a bullpen pitcher pitches at an average speed of 140 kilometers (87 miles) per hour, he would pitch at 142 kilometers per hour in live pitching, and during intrasquad games he would throw at about 144 kilometers per hour,” Son said. “Then in practice games, the speed will increase by one to two kilometers and once they start the season, the speed will increase once again by another one to two kilometers. That’s how their body slowly adjusts [to the season].”

Since being appointed as the Heroes manager, Son has been reminiscing on his time with Trey Hillman, the Wyverns’ former manager back in 2017 and 2018. Under Hillman, the Wyverns advanced to the wildcard in his first season, and in his second season in 2018 Hillman managed to lead the team to win the Korean Series. At the time, Son served as the Wyverns’ pitching coach.

“Manager Hillman told us that whenever we have meetings with the players, we should simulate what we’re going to say at least a day before it,” Son said. “He said that so we are aware of what kind of reaction a player with a strong character would have, and that advice is actually helping a lot.”

The Lotte Giants, Samsung Lions and the Kia Tigers have also appointed new managers for the 2020 season. Like Son, both Her Mun-hoe of the Giants and Heo Sam-young of the Lions have never managed teams before.

Her does have some coaching experience. Until the 2019 season, he served as the Heroes’ head coach. But for Heo, his appointment came as a very big surprise as he’s never had any coaching experience and served as the Lions’ data analyst.

The Tigers’ Matt Williams did manage the Washington National back when he was in the major league, but in terms of the KBO, he will also be making his debut.

It’s not just the new managers who are concerned. The indefinite postponement of the season along with the cancellation of all exhibition games for the first time in the KBO’s history is also unchartered territory for the veterans too.

BY PARK SO-YOUNG, KANG YOO-RIM [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]
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