The Dinos’ Na Sung-bum is ready for redemption
Before the 2019 season started, Na was named the club’s captain and was eying his chance for the majors. He got off to a great start, but his season and all his goals were ruined on May 3, 2019. During the Dinos’ game against the Kia Tigers, Na twisted his knee sliding to the third base during the second inning. It was instantly clear that he was in serious pain and was unable to finish the game. After arriving at the hospital he was told that he had no choice but to undergo a surgery on his knee.
Na was out for the rest of the 2019 season, and it is not an exaggeration to say that it was the biggest slump in his career.
The loss of Na was a major blow to the Dinos as well as it meant they were without their clean-up hitter. Thankfully, they fought through the situation and earned their spot in the postseason as a wildcard. However, they subsequently became the first team to be eliminated after losing to the LG Twins in the first game.
The Dinos finished fifth in the regular season standing with 73 wins, 69 losses and two draws.
Na slowly made his way through the rehabilitation process. In September last year, he headed to the United States to get his body back in shape, as part of a more structured program. Before heading back to Korea in November, he trained at Boras Sports Training Institute, located in Los Angeles.
After getting a clean bill of health for his injured knee, Na joined the Dinos’ spring training and headed to Arizona in February. To prevent reinjuring himself, he only focused on his batting and excluded defense training.
Currently, just like all the other clubs, the Dinos are only playing intrasquad games. Since knee injuries can determine the career of a player, the club is taking as many precautions as possible and keeping Na off the outfield.
“The best scenario is [for him to] appear as a designated hitter in a season opener game in May,” said the Dinos’ manager Lee Dong-wook. “I don’t plan on dragging him to play [when his knee] is in bad condition.”
As of now, things are looking good for Na’s return.
The KBO has currently postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus. While both the organization and fans are disappointed by the delay, for Na, the situation is giving him more time to recover and prepare for his return. As the season won’t start until at least May due to the virus, Na has earned some time to fully ready himself.
Below are edited excerpts of an interview Na had with Ilgan Sports.
A. I didn’t try to, but as I trained, I think my body got better. I lost a lot of weight. In September last year, when I went to the United States, I weighed about 112 kilograms (247 pounds), but now, I weigh between 102 and 103 kilograms. I tried to lose more but it hasn’t been that easy. So I think this is it.
Why did you lose weight?
Well, if I’m heavier, it puts more pressure on my knee. So I thought if I was a little lighter, it might help. I wanted to lose weight for a while, but I didn’t have a chance to do so. I did it to take care of myself. I don’t have many problems with power. If there was a big difference [due to my weight loss], it would have been an issue, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
How’s your knee?
It’s gotten a lot better. Since I have no plans to quit baseball, I’m not overdoing anything. If I were just planning to have a short professional career, I could get back into action right now, but since I have more years to go, I think the season being postponed is a good thing for me.
It’s been about a year since you had your surgery. How has your recovery been?
I had my surgery on May 5, last year. It’s different for everyone. Some people can return in a year or even earlier. I’m trying not to rush myself. As for a normal person’s perspective, [right now,] it’s doesn’t affect me in my daily life. But since I’m an athlete, I have to keep on running, and since that can add pressure to my knee, I’m trying to rest my body as much as possible.
The KBO’s 2020 season has been postponed indefinitely. Is that helping you feel less anxious in your rehabilitation process?
[The start of the season has been] delayed for a negative reason, but for me, I think it’s a positive. But I really hope [the coronavirus] will disappear.
Last season, you were captain, but this year, you’re not. Does this change your mindset?
No, I always prepare for the season with the same mindset. It’s similar now, but back when I was a captain, I think I tried to reach out to the players more. I tried to talk to the younger players more and felt a greater responsibility. Right now, I feel sorry for the players and the fans. So I think it’ll be a more meaningful season.
While you were rehabilitating, you became a spectator of Dinos’ games. What was it like to watch from outside of the dugout?
For a while, I didn’t watch them, because it was really difficult. And since it was the first time I took a break for this long, I felt lost. After a month or two of visiting the baseball stadium to rehabilitate and then heading back home, I started to feel really sorry for the team, and those emotions only grew. [It may be because of my absence from the injury, but] they changed the outfielder and brought Lee Myung-gi [through a trade] and Lee Woo-sung left. I started to feel that I was the cause of these changes. But thankfully, our players made it through [the tough time] and made it to the postseason.
You teammates played through the season with your jersey number, 47, on their helmets and hats. How did you feel when you saw that?
I watched other teams do it when I played baseball, but I never thought my number would be the one featured. So it felt weird when my teammates did that.
There have been great evaluations about the Dinos’ batting lineup. What do you think?
I think I just need to play well. Our veteran players are really good, and looking at how our foreign players are playing right now, I think they’ll be great.
Are you batting at 100 percent right now?
I am exerting 100 percent, but practice games and training is different. I’m trying to pick up the pace by playing in games. It may be because I was at-bats for the first time in a while, but [back at spring training], I think I was busy watching the pitches. But now, it’s fine.
You must be itching to play some practice games against other teams?
We are playing intrasquad games, but since our actual opponents are the players on the other teams, there really isn’t a point of batting well against our own pitchers.
There had been talks about this season being the Dinos’ season to win. Do you also think that?
Now, I feel like we have to. I know all the other teams also want to win, but I feel like we have to at this great stadium we have. Every regular season, we would play well, but toward the end, we lose energy and focus. And that always leads to a feeling of regret once [the season’s] done.
Before the start of last season, you were thinking about heading to the majors. Is that still a goal you have?
I think that it’s too early to say. It will only be possible if I can show some skills so that’s something that I need to think about. For now, it’s too early.
BY BAE JUNG-HYUNE [email@example.com]