Byung Ho Park admits he is nervous. He has never lived in another country, he doesn’t know many words of the language and he has heard the walls at Target Field are extraordinarily high.
Yep, the transition from Korean superstar to Twins DH promises to be difficult. Well, except on the field.
“A new living situation makes you nervous,” Park said through an interpreter Sunday night at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, soon after his arrival in what could shortly be his new baseball home. “But baseball? Baseball is baseball. I’m confident about that.”
Park was greeted by a handful of Korean baseball fans at the airport after arriving from Chicago, which followed a 12-hour flight from Seoul. The fans sought photos and autographs for a player they know very well from his successful career with the Nexen Heroes.
After chatting with them, he was ready to embark on his mission for the next three or four days: Get comfortable with the Twin Cities, look around the ballpark and city, and, he hopes, agree to a multiyear contract to play for the Twins.
“He was very curious about the city of Minneapolis, and he was also curious about [Twins] Vice President Rob Antony,” interpreter Jae Woong Han said of the team’s chief negotiator with Park. “He wanted to see him face-to-face and discuss [his contract] further. So he cannot say how close he is to [an agreement].”
A source close to the negotiations told the Star Tribune on Saturday that the Twins believe they will sign Park, who hit 53 home runs last year and 52 in 2014, well before their negotiating rights expire Dec. 8. Park said he hopes that’s the case, too — his agent, Alan Nero, will arrive here Monday or Tuesday — because playing for the Twins has appealed to him all along, even if it means becoming a full-time DH.
He has “no problem being the DH,” Park told reporters at a news conference earlier upon his departure from Seoul’s Incheon International Airport. “Obviously, I prefer to take the field, but I also have to make adjustments in a new environment.”
The value of his contract, however, might fall short of the $5-10 million per year level that had been predicted for him, the Yonhap News agency quoted him as saying, but “it certainly doesn’t mean I am not satisfied with the offer.”
The Twins intend to use Park as the full-time designated hitter once he is acclimated to big-league pitching, General Manager Terry Ryan said.
The 29-year-old slugger is a first baseman in South Korea, though Yonhap noted he works at third base during spring training as well. Ryan said the Twins prefer to keep current first baseman Joe Mauer and third baseman Trevor Plouffe in those spots, but that Miguel Sano, who launched 18 home runs in half a season as the Twins’ DH, will move to the outfield to accommodate the newcomer.
Park has been aware of the Minnesota Twins ever since he played for a team called the LG Twins in South Korea. “I’ve heard a lot about Joe Mauer and a lot of famous stars here,” Park said. “And Target Field, I know it’s beautiful, but it’s a long way to hit a home run, and with also high fences.”
Should a contract be agreed upon, Park said, he intends to play in North America for the rest of his career, the fulfillment of a longtime ambition.
“In Korea, we see [MLB] highlights every night. When I was young, I admired it, it became a dream. But when I became a pro, I was in the minors for a long time, and struggled for awhile. And I forgot the dream of coming here,” Park said through Han. “But after I was traded to Nexen, I got a chance and it went well, and I have been aiming for the major leagues since then. I got my dream back.”
He has been learning English, and making another big adjustment to his game: abandoning his trademark bat flips. “No bat flipping. I got advice from other players,” he said. Has he reconsidered? “No,” Park said, pointing to his head as he laughed. “No beanballs.”