Twins manager Paul Molitor on Friday wanted to introduce third base coach Gene Glynn to new designated hitter Byung Ho Park. To break through the language barrier, Molitor began flashing signs. Park laughed and nodded that he understood.
“How are you?” Park said with a smile to Glynn.
Park met a few of his new teammates on Thursday during the Diamond Awards at Target Field. Then he spent Friday navigating a clubhouse full of new faces and names during TwinsFest. It’s a weekend immersion program for Park, whom the Twins signed for a $12.85 million posting fee and four-year, $12 million contract. The weekend marks his first interaction with Twins fans and teammates, and it’s his first taste of what kind of baseball town he’s in as he leaves his home in South Korea to pursue his major league baseball dreams.
“To be honest, there are a lot of players. I cannot remember all their faces and names,” Park said through interpreter Jae Woong Han. “I’m trying hard and I hope I can get to know everyone pretty soon.”
Park understands some English and can speak a few words. He said he’s been treated warmly by fans and has met some members of the local Korean community. He’s found a Korean restaurant off First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis — named Dong Hae — that’s not far from his hotel. He has eaten there three times this week.
And some fans have surprised him.
“I don’t know how they learned, but when they came in [to TwinsFest] they said, ‘Thank you,’ in Korean,” Park said. “So I felt very welcomed.”
He’ll hear more of that if his power bat made the trip across the ocean. Park batted .343 last season for the Nexen Heroes of the Korean Baseball Association, with 53 home runs and 146 RBI. The year before, he hit 52 homers to go with 124 RBI. No one is sure how his approach will hold up in MLB, where he’ll see many mid-90s fastballs. But fangraphs.com has projected him to hit 27 home runs with 84 RBI.
After signing with the Twins on Dec. 1, Park spent a few days in Florida with Pittsburgh second baseman Jung Ho Kang, a fellow South Korean who got off to a slow start last year but hit .287 with 15 homers and 58 RBI before a broken leg ended his season. More recently, Park spent two weeks in Arizona working out with his former team while it was in the country. After TwinsFest, Park will head to Fort Myers, Fla., to prepare for spring training.
And the Twins will begin to see what they really have.
“He’s got the makeup,” Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. “And it doesn’t take a genius to watch how far he hits a baseball. He’s got power. He’s got strength. He’s 29. That’s why we went and got him.
“I don’t expect him to hit the ground running in Fort Myers and everything is peachy. It’s gonna be work, just like [Miguel] Sano going to right field. He’s got work ethic. He’s got resiliency, and he knows what’s at stake.”
The Twins are prepared to take advantage if Park’s transition works out. Laura Day, the club’s executive vice president for business development, recently returned from Seoul, where she met with eight companies over a two-day period about marketing possibilities.
The Twins wanted to do the same with Tsuyoshi Nishioka when he came over from Japan from 2011-12, but Nishioka suffered a broken leg during the first week of the 2011 season and never lived up to expectations. Nishioka gave up the final year of his contract to return to Japan. Marketing opportunities never materialized there.
In Park’s case, the Twins will be patient while he learns a new league and faces a new culture. If he proves he belongs, it will open doors for the Twins in South Korea.
“We expect, over time, with Byung Ho Park’s emergence with the Twins, there will be opportunities for us to expand our business relationships into that country,” Twins President Dave St. Peter said.
If the Twins get to that point, that means Park has adjusted to the league and is showing some of the power he used to dominate in South Korea.
“It’s going to be interesting,” third baseman Trevor Plouffe said. “I’ve watched some video on Park, and he hits the ball a long way. When we have him and Sano in the lineup, that’s going to be a lot of fun. In talking to Mollie about Park, it sounds like he’s got a great work ethic and knows it’s not going to be easy. He knows he’s going to have to work, and that is the right attitude to have.
“It’s going to be difficult for him, but if he puts in the work, with the talent he has, he’s going to help us a lot.’’