There is some conflict to be detected with Sangho Yun when he talks about the anticipated arrival of the South Korean slugger Byung-ho Park with the Minnesota Twins in 2016.
Yun came to the Twin Cities from his home of Seoul to attend the University of Minnesota. He’s a teaching assistant in electrical and computer engineering. He is married with a baby girl and has become a Twins fan.
The issue is that Yun is also an ardent fan of the LG Twins, one of three Seoul teams in the 10-team KBO [Korea Baseball Organization] League. The LG Twins were among the six franchises when the KBO League started in 1982, and their fans are proud of that tradition.
The team now called the Nexen Heroes was relocated to Seoul in 2008 and has attempted (along with the reigning champion Doosan Bears) to steal the LG Twins’ thunder as the most popular team in the capital city of 10 million.
The player who has done the most for the Heroes’ popularity has been Park. He was the MVP in his first two seasons (2012-13) for Nexen, hit 52 home runs and drove in 124 runs in 2014, and topped that with 53 home runs and a record 146 RBI this season.
Park could win a third MVP when the announcement is made Tuesday.
What we have here with Park and fans of the LG Twins is a case similar to fans of the Minnesota Twins and what became of David Ortiz after he left here and arrived with the Boston Red Sox.
Park was the first-round draft choice of the LG Twins in 2005 as an 18-year-old. He was moved from catcher to first base and there were expectations for immediate success.
It didn’t happen. Park batted .190 and .162 in part-time duty his first two seasons, then in 2007-08, he did his two years of South Korea’s compulsory military service.
“When he came back from the military, he still did not do as expected,” Kwan Hyun Kim said. “Park went through a lot of criticism with the LG Twins.”
Kim and Kiwoong You had joined Yun this week for a conversation on Park and his prospects in Major League Baseball.
“The LG Twins wanted Park to hit a certain way,” You said. “They wanted him to strike out less. He had no confidence.”
Park remained a part-time player in 2009 and 2010, batting .218 and .188. Finally, on July 31, 2011, he was traded to Nexen in a four-player deal.
The Heroes put Park at first base every day and told him to let it rip. He hit 12 home runs in 51 games over the closing weeks of the season, then took off: 173 home runs in four full seasons for the Heroes.
The strikeouts also have soared, from 207 in 2012-13 to 303 in 2014-15. These are also 140-game seasons, so the whiffs are mighty.
Jack Hannahan, the veteran big leaguer from St. Paul, played 32 games in the KBO last season before injuring his back. Hannahan said last week that Park has an excellent set-up at the plate, and that his power is very real. He also pointed out the average fastball in Korea is 88 to 90 miles per hour “and straight.”
Can Park adjust to 95, or more, in America?
“Even though I dislike the Nexen Heroes, I’m very happy to see Park next year in Minnesota,” Yun said. “I’m hoping he can hit 20 home runs, or more.”
Yun, Kim and You all agreed that a reason for optimism with Park is how well infielder Jung-ho Kang did for Pittsburgh after arriving from the KBO. He was third in NL Rookie of the Year voting.
Kim is a cancer researcher and molecular biologist at the University of Minnesota. You works in the Twin Cities as his wife studies engineering at the university.
Yun follows baseball as a fan. A few years back, he was at Target Field, wearing a Tsuyoshi Nishioka jersey, and a stranger sneered at him, “Why don’t you and Nishioka go back where you came from?”
Yun said: “I said, ‘He’s from Japan; I’m from Korea.’ He didn’t care. I guess he was upset with Nishioka as a player, like everyone else.”
You and Kim play for “Entourage,’’ a senior amateur team of Koreans living in the Twin Cities.
Asked for their positions on the field, You said, “Shortstop,’’ and Kim offered a sheepish smile.
You nodded toward Kim and said: “He’s not so good in the field. He’s our DH, our big slugger. He’s our Park.”