Byung Ho Park is back in Minnesota, but he won’t be in the lineup Thursday. He’ll be in an operating room.
Park’s first season in America ended Tuesday when a specialist recommended surgery on the tendon on the back of his right hand, an injury that has bothered him occasionally for the past couple of months.
“It’s been bothering me, not seriously, but the pain’s been there from time to time,” Park said through interpreter J.D. Kim. “After I got sent down to Rochester, the pain got a little worse and I thought it was time to get it checked out.”
The injury is unrelated to some tendonitis in his wrist that nagged him earlier this season, Park said — “This is in a totally different place,” he emphasized — but Dr. Tom Varecka, who will perform the surgery, warned him that the hand problem is potentially more serious. “The doctor yesterday said there’s likely a torn ligament on the back of my hand,” Park said. “We’ll find out for sure when they open it up.”
It’s a sour finish to a rookie season that already had disappointed the South Korean slugger and his new team, which paid $12.85 million for his rights last winter. Park opened the season as the Twins’ everyday designated hitter and slugged six homers in April. His results declined, however, as the season went on, and by the time he was optioned to Class AAA Rochester at the end of June, he had added only six more homers, his batting average stood at .191 and his OPS was just .684. He also struck out 80 times in 215 at-bats.
“It was a huge learning experience. I had been told it was going to be different, but when I actually came and faced those guys, it was really, really different,” Park said candidly. “I learned a lot. I tried to stay positive the whole season, it didn’t matter if I was playing here or in Rochester. Now I know what I’m lacking, so I know what to prepare for next year in spring training.”
And what is that?
“It’s all about timing, I’ve been saying that all year long,” Park said. “That’s the tough part of hitting in this game. I need to work on timing, and work on my swing with my coaches in the off-season.”
Park, who signed a four-year, $12 million contract last December, will rehab here until the season ends next month, Twins manager Paul Molitor said.
Molitor sounded glum over Park’s rough first season, which improved only marginally after he was sent to Rochester. Park batted .286 with a pair of homers in his first dozen games there, but as the hand began bothering him, his minor league average slid to .224, and he racked up 32 strikeouts in 31 games.
“He had a couple stretches that caught our attention in a good way,” Molitor said, “and then it kind of reverted back to being a struggle, before he finally had to get shut down.”
But if succeeding at baseball was harder than he imagined, the transition to a foreign country wasn’t so bad, Park said.
“When you’re out of your home country for eight months, it’s definitely not easy,” the 30-year-old Park said. “It didn’t get to the point where it bothered me or stressed me out. I felt like I kind of adapted to American lifestyle pretty good. I was comfortable here.”