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First Half Grades for Korean Major Leaguers

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

As the second half of the 2015 MLB season underway, here’s a look at how the players of Korean descent fared in the big leagues until now. It’s a mixed bag, filled with disappointments but also plenty to cheer for, especially with the newcomers.

Shin-soo Choo



Outfielder, Texas Rangers
An Expensive Disappointment
Grade: D-

With great power comes great responsibility. With a hefty contract comes heavy expectations, and Shin-soo Choo just looks like dead weight out there.

It hurts to write that, as Choo worked tirelessly to get back into game shape after injuries made his first year with the Rangers a forgettable one. But year two of a 7-year, $130 million contract isn’t faring much better, and in fact, it looks worse: His slash line of .221/.305/.384 for the first half is the worst of his career since his major league debut in 2005.

He’s a far cry from the player who made getting on base look easy just a few years ago with the Cleveland Indians and the Cincinnati Reds. At 33 years old, Choo isn’t the youngest player on the roster, but this drop-off hopefully isn’t due to aging.

The Rangers are reportedly even considering trading him in the upcoming offseason. The team is full of left-handed hitters and the outfield is crowded, so it’s quite possible Choo might be palying elsewhere in 2016. We’re rooting for a stronger second half, whether it boosts his trade value or actually helps the Rangers get back into the AL West race.

See Also: KoreAm’s August/September 2014 Cover Story on Shin-soo Choo

Jung-ho Kang


Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 11.06.27 AM(Photo via Pittsburgh Pirates/Instagram)

Third Baseman, Pittsburgh Pirates
The New Kid on the Block
Grade: A

Who would’ve thought the first-year player with so many question marks would end up being the most consistent on our list halfway through the 2014 season? Kang, 28, had important questions attached to his 4-year, $16 million contract: Could he hit MLB pitching? Would he get enough playing time behind starter Josh Harrison, and if he did, would his defense be a liability? And the most important one: Is his leg kick too much?

The numbers speak for themselves. In 72 game appearances (53 starts), Kang is hitting a respectable .268/.348/.384 with four home runs and 29 RBI. His offensive WAR is measured at 1.4, which is decent for someone who didn’t have consistent playing time early in the season. Kang has appeared primarily at third base on defense, but did start 16 games at shortstop, and he’s held his own—his 0.3 defensive WAR looks better than Harrison’s negative 0.3 dWAR. And by the way, #thatlegkick.

Kang has started at third base since early July, when Harrison was sidelined with a thumb injury. Coming into the All Star break, Kang hit safely in nine of his last 10 starts while slotted in at clean-up, batting .293 (12 for 41) in that span with one double, two triples and seven runs scored. His surge matches the Pirates roaring into the break and going 8-2 in the last 10 games; they are now just two games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the division lead.

Here’s hoping we see Kang and the Pirates in the playoffs come October.

See Also: Jung-ho Kang Heating Up, Keeping Struggling Pirates Afloat


Hank Conger

Hank Conger
(Photo via Getty Images)

Catcher, Houston Astros
The Really Nice Dude Who You Can’t Not Like
Grade: B

As an Angels fan, it hurt to see fan-favorite Hank Conger, aka PandaCrusher35, be traded away. It hurt just as much to see the Houston Astros charging out of the gate in the American League West, but that pain is subsiding just a bit as the Astros did a full face-plant going into the All-Star break, ending up half a game behind the Angels.

By the way, Conger has some twerking skills.

Of course, I’d like to see Conger be successful wherever he goes, and a look at his numbers shows he’s doing slightly better across the board with roughly the same amount of playing time as last season in the role of backup catcher. Conger started in 60 and 70 games in 2013 and 2014, respectively; this year, he’s started in 27 games behind Jason Castro.

Conger is walking more this year, reflected in his on-base percentage (.339) and slugging (.434), which are at the highest of his career. Even with less playing time compared to the last two years, Conger is on track for the highest single-season WAR of his career (currently sitting at 0.9). The only knock is his defense this year—the 6 percent caught-stealing percentage is far below the league average of 36 percent.

Apart from that last bit, you can’t expect much more from a backup catcher. Conger came into the league offense-first, and he’s slotted into his role serviceably. As an Angels fan, go Hank! But the team can stay in second place, please.

See Also: Hank Conger Traded to Houston Astros

Rob Refsnyder

 rob refsnyder flickr commons(Photo via Rob Hagerty and Flickr/Creative Commons License)

Second Baseman, New York Yankees
The Young’un with Big Shoes to Fill
Grade: To Be Continued

It’s hard not to get excited for Rob Refsnyder once you see past the pinstripes. That’s especially true for Yankees fans, who have been waiting for the next player to fill the hole Robinson Cano left in 2014. After getting called up on July 11, Refsnyder collected both his first big-league hit and home run at Fenway Park in the last game before the All-Star break. The best part: His family was in the crowd, and the hits came against the Red Sox.

Manager Joe Girardi won’t reveal what the team’s plan is for Refsnyder, but it isn’t a two-week trial. Even though the Yankees have a crowded roster, expect Refsnyder to get plenty of outings at second—though, the team will have to decide whether to keep the young player or send him back down to the minors.

One knock on his game has been his defense, but despite his first error in the major leagues on July 12 (13 errors at Triple-A), Girardi was happy overall, which bodes well. Offensively, Refsnyder has been pretty solid at Triple-A, hitting .290 with an on-base percentage of .387 and slugging .413—consistent with the numbers he put up last year after being promoted from Double-A.

Meanwhile, Refsnyder made his first start in the Bronx at Yankee Stadium on Friday night. Best of luck to the guy, pinstripes and all.

See Also: KoreAm’s August 2012 Feature on Robert Refsnyder


Hyun-jin Ryu


Starting Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Hibernating Giant
Grade: N/A

The Dodgers were looking to fix the cracks in their armor after yet another playoff exit to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2014. After bolstering their infield with Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick, the team was looking forward to another year of a pitching rotation anchored by reigning MVP and Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Ryu and newcomer Brandon McCarthy.

Ryu’s season ended before it began when he underwent left shoulder surgery for a torn labrum, and McCarthy became a Tommy John victim. However, the Dodgers have been able to keep first place going into the All-Star break because of their sheer depth of talent and surprising pitching performances from their non-Kershaw and Greinke starters.

The best-case scenario is that Ryu is back for spring training next year and that the shoulder doesn’t plague him in the future. Get well, and see you in 2016.

In the meantime, you kill time until April by reading the longest feature ever written on Hyun-jin Ryu by KoreAm’s Steve Han.


Featured image via MLB.com (Screenshot)

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Conger Astros

Hank Conger’s First Hit as an Astro Lifts Team to Extra-Innings Win

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Houston Astro catcher Hank Conger hasn’t had too many opportunities to play early in the 2015 season, so it didn’t take long for him to capitalize on his first appearance last night in an extra-innings thriller against the Texas Rangers.

In fact, it just took one pitch. In his first at-bat in the top of the 14th inning, Conger swung at the first pitch he saw from Logan Verrett and sent it out into the right field bleachers over the head of Shin-soo Choo. That was Conger’s first hit and first home run of the season. The Astros took a 6-4 lead in what would become the final score.

Playing time has been hard to come by for Conger, with fellow catcher Juan Castro starting in front of him. Last night, Conger didn’t enter the game until the bottom of the 12th inning as a defensive sub after the Astros pinch-ran for Castro the inning before.

“I was just watching along with the game and trying to get the feel of the flow,” Conger told the Houston Chronicle. “I had a heads-up, ‘Hey, if he gets on, we might pinch-run for [Castro] here, so just get loose.”

Conger wouldn’t have played if it were not for Astro right fielder George Springer’s amazing game-saving catch in the bottom of the 10th inning. With the bases loaded, Springer leapt at the right field wall to rob the Rangers’ Leonys Martin of a walk-off grand slam.

You can watch Conger Hank hitting a two-run homer in the 14th inning here


Featured image via USA Today

Ryu rap

Hyun-jin Ryu Shows Off His Rapping Skills in Korean Commercial

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Hyun-jin Ryu can drop a sweet change-up. But did you know he can drop bars, too?

The Los Angeles Dodgers southpaw may have one of the best résumés among his peers when it comes to commercials and guest appearances. Ryu’s commercial for NH Card is just the latest in his exploration of his artistic side.

Ryu has always taken on side jobs in South Korea during the offseason, including an earlier commercial for Ottogi noodles and a guest appearance on the popular show Running Man, alongside fellow Korean baseball players Shin-soo Choo and Jung-ho Kang. Ryu also has a couple of K-pop singles under his belt, by the way.

During the regular season, he drags his teammates into his antics, like when he used Clayton Kershaw and (now former teammate) Matt Kemp as backup dancers. Maybe he can include Hank Conger the next time, too—the new Houston Astro’s twerking puts Miley Cyrus to shame.

In regards to his professional work, Ryu has been slowly resuming throwing activities while nursing a sore shoulder. The Dodgers began the season with him on the disabled list, and the team has stated they will allow him take as much time as needed before getting Ryu back on the mound.

If you’re looking for an in-depth read, be sure to check out our Hyun-jin Ryu cover story from August 2013.


MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Texas Rangers

Hank Conger Traded to Houston Astros


Catcher Hank Conger will be hanging up the halo and heading across the division to the Houston Astros. In return, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will receive the Astro’s No. 13 prospect, pitcher Nick Tropeano, and catcher Carlos Perez, the teams announced Wednesday.

The Huntington Beach native and fan favorite spent his entire major league career with the Angels, but he can look forward to working with a solid pitching staff in Houston. Astros manager A.J. Hinch, a former catcher, said his skills will definitely benefit the team.

“The best catchers really take it personally, interacting and working with pitchers on the staff,” Hinch told MLB.com. “What they do behind the plate is always going to impact the game at a higher level than the bat. … Talking to Conger, he has that mentality, that selfless side of being a catcher that can really elevate what a pitching staff brings to the table.”

Conger, who was taken in the first round (25th overall) in the 2006 Draft, was touted as a switch-hitting offensive catcher as he came up through the Angels’ minor league system. His bat, however, didn’t make too much of an impact when he was promoted in 2010, and he was sent down to the minors in 2011 to work on his lack of defense.

In 2012, the Angels recalled Conger, but he would only play in seven games due to a logjam of catchers. He came back in 2013 with a solid season, batting .249 and posting his best numbers offensively, but his improvements on defense was what earned him the blessing of Manager Mike Scioscia, a former catcher.

During the 2013-14 seasons, Conger backed up and eventually formed an effective platoon with fellow backstop Chris Ianetta. He developed a reputation in the baseball sabermetric community as one of the best pitch-framers in the league: he ranked 6th and 3rd, in respective seasons, in framing runs saved per 7000 pitches.

Ultimately, it was his lack of offensive numbers that allowed Chris Iannetta to edge out Conger in starts in the second half of the 2014 season. Iannetta went on to start all three games of the American League Division Series the Angels played this past postseason.

Here are some notable moments from Conger’s tenure with the Angels.

Dancing in celebration of the Angels clinching the playoffs

Hank Conger won the Angels dance contest last night.

A video posted by Arash Markazi (@arashmarkazi) on

Conger hits a clutch 9th-inning home run

The most unorthodox bunt hit ever

Image via USA Today


Cover Story: Why Texas Rangers’ Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo Will Never Give Up


Texas Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo has proven himself a powerful player, who also commands an impressive multimillion-dollar contract. But what he and his fans are most proud of is the resilience Choo has displayed time and time again, first as an 18-year-old prospect from South Korea coming up through the minors, and now as a veteran major leaguer trying to come back from a challenging season.

written by STEVE HAN
photographs by MARK EDWARD HARRIS



He’s leading off the sixth inning at Angel Stadium with the Texas Rangers down 2-0. The left fielder gently gnaws on his bubble gum as he walks to the plate. He swings effortlessly to loosen up, enters the batter’s box and sets his feet. Then, he stares in at Hector Santiago, who’s so far throwing a shutout.

Santiago’s first pitch is a 91-mile sinker through the middle. Choo swings hard, smashes the ball and sends it arching toward center field. Angels outfielder Mike Trout runs back, back and back a little more. Trout jumps desperately for the ball, but crashes into the wall and tumbles onto the warning track empty-handed. As the cliché goes, that ball is history. Game on.

Inspired by Choo’s homer, the Rangers come from behind and take a 3-2 lead. In the next inning, Choo rips a line drive to center field to bring in another run to extend the lead. Texas would go on to win, 5-2, giving themselves a 16-13 record, the second best in the American League and only two games behind the Oakland A’s.

A month into the 2014 season, Choo is looking like the worldly free agent signing he was expected to be for the Rangers. After that May 2 game, he is batting an impressive .325, with a .446 on base percentage.

Indeed, when Choo first signed with the Rangers last December, the front office, Texas media and fans alike all touted him as the final piece of the puzzle—the player who could finally push the perennial underachievers over the top. Instead of losing in the World Series, which the Rangers had done twice in the last four years, the team just might finally bring home their first championship trophy.

Well before his contract with the Cincinnati Reds expired after last season, the Rangers had begun scouting the South Korean native, with the intention of making him their marquee signing. Choo’s ability to get on base (second in on-base percentage last season in the National League at .423), his speed (over 20 stolen bases in four of the last five seasons), and his hitting power (104 career home runs), not to mention his rifle of a throwing arm on defense, made him one of the most coveted free agents on the market. The Rangers competed with none other than the New York Yankees for Choo, who turned down a seven-year, $140 million offer from baseball’s most storied franchise because he felt Texas would give him the best shot at winning.

But it was that very game in Anaheim this past spring when things both got off to such a bright start and yet also began falling apart. After giving the Rangers a 4-2 lead in the seventh inning, Choo left the game with soreness in his left ankle. He hasn’t been the same since. Nor has his team, ravaged by a slew of player injuries.

Fast forward six weeks to June 20, and the Rangers are back in Anaheim. With two outs in the top of the ninth inning, Choo steps up to the plate with the Rangers down by four runs. He swings at Joe Smith’s first pitch, but this time, misses. He swings on the second, and misses again. On the third pitch, he swings even harder—and misses.

Angels win, 7-3. The Rangers, more than 10 games behind the A’s, are now one of the worst teams in baseball.

Tilting his head back in frustration, Choo loiters around home plate before walking feebly back to the dugout, dejected.


* * *

I CAN’T help it. I don’t have that personality where I just say, ‘Who cares?’ and move on when I play bad. It just doesn’t work like that for me.”

Choo tells me this during a private interview in the Anaheim clubhouse on June 20, a few hours before the disappointing game. He’s referring to past games, of course, though his remarks could easily apply to his performance later that day.

Sitting hunched over on a folding chair in front of his locker, Choo is wearing a blue, fitted, long-sleeved shirt and black fleece shorts, with his Rangers hat pulled down to his eyebrows. Before our interview, he offers a handshake and makes a slight bow, a traditional Korean way to greet someone you meet for the first time. As he speaks, the 32-year-old often pauses for several seconds before answering my questions, as if deeply engaging each one. He comes across as thoughtful, honest and humble—even for an athlete from South Korea, where modesty is expected of public figures. It’s hard to imagine that this is a man who is set to pocket $130 million over the next seven years.

“I know better than anyone that I won’t be a Hall of Famer, ever,” Choo says in Korean. “I’ve heard people say that I’m a five-tool player, but I’m a five-tool player who’s average at all five things. Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen are the real five-tool players. For me, if people who’ve seen me play just remember me as a player who gave it his all every game, I’d be more than happy with that.”

Those appear to be the words of an athlete who has been seasoned by struggle, hard work and more struggle before tasting success. Out of the 14 years he has lived in the U.S., Choo spent nine in the major leagues and the remaining years bouncing around in the minors trying to prove himself. After signing with the Seattle Mariners in 2000, he would play for seven different teams over a five-year period, before finally getting his first at-bat in the big leagues. Those were humbling years spent living in places like Appleton, Wisconsin, and San Antonio, Texas—cities with no sizable Korean community. Choo and his wife Won Mi Ha, who spoke limited English at the time, struggled mightily in those days—so much so that putting food on the table for their son, Alan, was a challenge.

“There were times when we couldn’t afford a hamburger,” Choo recalls. “I’ll never forget my years of desperation in the minors. I haven’t played well lately, but this is nothing compared to what I dealt with back then.”

Choo also knows full well that he freely—and controversially—chose this more arduous path. Had he stayed in Korea, after all, stardom seemed all but guaranteed.

The burly, 5-foot-11 athlete from the port city of Busan was a promising 18-year-old pitching prospect, with a 97-mile fastball in his repertoire, when his hometown team tried to sign him.

The Lotte Giants offered him a contract with $420,000 in guaranteed money, which would’ve made him one of the highest paid rookies in Korea. Even his own parents told him to take it. (After seeing him at spring training in 2001, they famously told Choo his Seattle teammates were too tall for him.)

It was an all-or-nothing deal. Had he tried and failed to make it in the U.S. and returned home, Choo would have been banned from Korean professional baseball for two years. It’s part of the Korea Baseball Organization’s policy to deter the country’s best prospects from leaving to play elsewhere and shredding the native talent pool.

Choo still left.

“This is how I am,” he says. “Whatever you do, don’t you want to take a chance at becoming the best at it? I wanted to play with the best in the world.”

Choo, however, didn’t anticipate that, when he got that chance with the Mariners, they would turn the hardthrowing left-hander into a corner outfield prospect.

“Our intention was to make him an outfielder from the start,” says Pat Gillick, the former Mariners general manager who signed Choo. “Choo had an outstanding arm. We just thought he was more valuable as an everyday player in the outfield.”

For Choo, the thought of becoming an outfielder never crossed his mind until the first day of spring training.

“I was a pitcher all along,” he says. “But all of a sudden, I was told to play in the outfield. I didn’t know what to do.”

But, in a way, overcoming obstacles would become something of a specialty for Choo—and so would exceeding expectations.

“He had tremendous power,” remembers Steve Roadcap, the manager of the minor league Class-A Inland Empire, which Choo led to a California League title in 2003. “He also ran well. He had the tools. With a lot of kids with talent, many of them have the tools, but they can’t find the toolbox to showcase their talent. Choo wasn’t one of them.”

Still, by 2006, the Mariners would trade the outfielder to the Cleveland Indians for first baseman Ben Broussard, because with franchise star Ichiro Suzuki manning the outfield, earning anything more than a pinch-hitting role for Choo was a mission impossible. He played just 14 games with the Mariners in a season and a half. Little did the team know that Choo would become one of baseball’s brightest outfielders after leaving Seattle.


“Unfortunately, I was already gone when they traded him,” says Gillick. As a team’s top personnel executive, Gillick won three World Series titles, two with the Toronto Blue Jays in the early ’90s and the other with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008, and he led the Mariners to playoff appearances in 2000 and 2001.

“I can tell you, honestly, I wouldn’t have traded him,” adds the 76-year-old Hall of Famer.

Between 2006 and last year, Choo’s batting average fell below .280 just once in eight seasons and eclipsed the .300 mark from 2008 to 2010. In 2009, he became the first Asian player in the majors to join the 20-20 club, hitting over 20 home runs and stealing over 20 bases in one season. He would go on to be a member of that distinct clique two more times, including last year with the Cincinnati Reds.

“He did all the little things right,” says Matt LaPorta, Choo’s former teammate in Cleveland. “It’s funny because I thought I was an early riser. During spring training, I always showed up at the ballpark at 6 [a.m.], but this guy … when I got there, he was already dressed.”

LaPorta and Choo became close friends. The two would work out together every day at 5 a.m., and invited each other’s families over for dinner.

“We can all work hard, but sometimes, if you don’t have talent, it’s hard to be successful,” says LaPorta. “But he doesn’t take that talent for granted … he commits to his talent. And when you see a guy who’s having success by working hard, I want that success as well. Hard work is contagious. People saw him and said, ‘I want to do what he’s doing.’”

Choo’s success in the U.S. also hinged on how well he could adapt to the American culture, according to Gillick.

“Baseball is the same everywhere,” says Gillick. “Playing the game, being on the field, competition and all that, it’s the same anywhere. But the cultural change is what’s difficult. When a young man like him reaches his potential, we’re not only happy for him, [but] we’re also happy that we made the right decision 14 years ago.”

Choo, however, says he is well received by his peers not because he fit in so easily, but because he always showed that he’s willing to make the effort.

“Even now, my English is not at all that great,” he says. “But one thing my teammates do give me a lot of credit for is that I’m one of very few Asian players who doesn’t have an interpreter.

“To this day, I still mumble and stutter when I’m giving interviews in English, but they respect my efforts. If I can’t explain something, I’ll use my arms and legs to do it. If that’s not enough, I’ll get my dictionary out.”

** *

ENTERING August, the Rangers are in a free fall. With the worst record in all of baseball at 43-65, their post-season hopes are all but shattered. Still bothered by his ankle, Choo is batting just .240, the lowest his batting average has ever been in the major leagues since his 2005 debut.

Yet, despite such woes, Choo remains optimistic. The benefit of having a career like his, dotted with its many stops and starts before finally reaching success, is that it gives him perspective—and a track record.

“He has proven himself,” says Rangers manager Ron Washington. “As long as he’s able to go out there [despite his injury], he’ll come back around. I’m not concerned.” Choo’s fans seem to share this long-range view of the player, whom they respect as much for his perseverance as for his baseball talent.

“We appreciate him because he comes from a background that resonates with the community,” says Ted Kim, the president of the Korean Society of Dallas, which has already organized two trips to Globe Life Park in Arlington to support Choo this season. The group also participated in the Rangers-hosted Korean Heritage Night on July 11, complete with bulgogi, Hite Beer and the Korean national anthem sung by the Wonder Girls’ Yenny.

“When he came from Korea, he was unproven,” Kim says of Choo. “He built his reputation through the minor leagues. He earned it the hard way. That’s what we’re really proud of.”

It’s a hard-won record that Angels’ Korean American catcher Hank Conger, who made his debut in 2010 after spending years in the minor leagues, can fully appreciate and admire. He met Choo in 2010 when he got called up to the majors for the first time and remembers Choo coming up to him to say congratulations. “Just watching him come through the minor leagues, he’s definitely a role model,” says Conger. “Especially because he understands the difficulty of playing in the major leagues.”

Of course, Choo’s biggest fan—the one who has stuck by him through all the struggles, from the early years in the minors to now—has been his wife, and she eloquently captured on her Facebook page last spring what the journey has been like for the couple, who now have three children:

“Exactly nine years ago, I was here while fully pregnant with our first child to watch a Mariners game, because my husband was in camp. He was never a starter, so I waited even as my stomach was aching badly. Whenever the starters were taken off and he came on, I chanted for him off the top of my lungs, and a fan sitting next to me worried that I would give birth at the game.

Today, my man is a proud starter on a major league team and every fan here is cheering him on. The baby I was pregnant with then is now here, chanting daddy’s name, just as I did then. I’m so proud. No matter what obstacles we face or how much happier our lives become in the future, I will never forget. I will never forget what we always dreamed of!”

Choo says there’s only one thing he’s done that’s better than baseball: marrying his wife. “There wouldn’t have been me today without my wife. She pushes me from behind and pulls me from the front,” he says. “She’s given me so much more than I’ve given her. I’m so thankful.”

For Choo, to be able to call himself an everyday major leaguer now, let alone one of the highest paid players on a team with World Series aspirations, is a tremendous sense of pride.

“The road wasn’t easy,” he says. “I rarely admire my abilities as a ballplayer, but I’m hugely proud of what I’ve been through and what I’ve endured to be able to play in these games with these great players.

“My initial goal was to play one game in the big leagues, so for me to have this kind of contract now, getting treated so well and to be where I am … I never thought this would happen, but now I’m here.”


And though he left his native country for a chance to play in the major leagues, he hasn’t forgotten where he came from. He has already laid the groundwork for a foundation that will provide funding for public sports facilities for children in Korea.

“I want Korea to be a place where the most common, and even underprivileged children, have access to ballparks,” Choo says. “It shouldn’t matter if their parents are rich or poor, or if these children are physically disabled. I want to build ballparks that any child can go to and play as much as they want.”

In a way, Choo’s gritty rise to success away from home starkly contrasts the road taken by his fellow countryman Hyun-Jin Ryu, who was heralded as a star even before he threw a pitch in the majors. Years before Ryu joined the Dodgers, he had already become a bona fide superstar back home in South Korea, where he was far and away the best pitcher, perhaps even an all-time great, in the country’s professional league. On the other hand, Choo came to the U.S. when he was still an 18-year-old ragtag amateur, a hillbilly from Busan, a place he says he wanted to escape, because he didn’t want to become a “frog in a small pond.” So even when Choo and his team struggle badly, he knows that better days are ahead. He realizes that things were much worse not long ago. Gaining that wisdom and perspective took years of trials and tribulations, which Choo says he used as “transportation” to get to where he is today.

“It’s not an experience you could buy with money,” he says. “Without that experience, I’d have a much tougher time dealing with my recent struggles, but I’ve made it this far by getting stronger and stronger and stronger. I have what it takes to not break easily.”

Epilogue: Days before this magazine went to print, Choo began to display the resilience that has made him such a sought-after player, going 10-for-25 in six games between August 4 and 10—a streak during which he reached 1,000 career hits with a ninth inning single versus the Houston Astros on Aug 9. On Aug. 25, he chose to undergo elbow surgery to remove a bone spur and has been ruled out for the season.

This article was published in the August/September 2014 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the August/Sept. issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).


Pic of the Day: Angels’ Hank Conger Trips, Crashes and Burns


Who said baseball was a boring sport?

The diehard fan? Never. But maybe if the MLB hired special effects teams or had Michael Bay direct baseball broadcasts, the number of viewers would go through the roof. Except Dodger fans, though, because they still can’t watch their boys in blue on the tube.

In a game against the Baltimore Orioles last year, Los Angeles Angels catcher Hank Conger laid down a perfect bunt to beat the defensive shift. With no one covering third base, Hank had all the time in the world to stroll up to first base, but it was anything but easy.

Sometimes, life throws curveballs at you, and in Hank’s case, that meant a defective cleat or, according to the GIF below, an airstrike. Just a few steps out of the batter’s box, he trips and crashes spectacularly, made all the more brilliant with the addition of explosions.

Hank Conger

Don’t worry, folks. Hank made it out alive, scrambling the rest of the way to safety. That’s what gets it done in the major leagues. You can watch the full play below.

Photo by Eric Sueyoshi; Image via Imgur

Hank Conger Skips Taiwan Trip To Focus On Skills

Los Angeles Angels catcher Hank Conger was invited to take part in a series of exhibition games in Taiwan this November but declined in order to play in the Arizona Fall League, according to the Orange County Register.

For Hank Conger – one of the few Asian-Americans in the major leagues – it would have been a unique opportunity. But Conger has decided his long-range future with the Angels is more important. He will pack up and head to Arizona on Monday and play for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. Games begin there Tuesday.

“The Fall League is absolutely more important for me,” Conger told the Orange County Register. “When the (MLB) Players Association first asked me, no doubt about it, I thought it would be a great experience. But talking to Tony (Reagins, Angels GM) and Sosh (Angels manager Mike Scioscia) about it – especially the way this season has panned out for me, it’s a lot more important that I go to the Fall League and work on my catching every day. The Taiwan thing would have been fun. But the way I understand it, it’s kind of a tournament where you only play a couple games.”

The Arizona Fall League features mostly minor league prospects on six teams; the season lasts about seven weeks. Conger hopes to improve from the lowly .209 batting average he put up this year with the Angels.

“I’m actually pretty excited,” said Conger, according to the O.C. Register. “It’s an opportunity for me to make up for a season that was disappointing for me.”

The Huntington Beach, Calif., native made the Angels opening day roster but was sent down after two months. He eventually played his way back on to the major league roster but didn’t contribute much upon his return.

Conger hopes to improve his defensive skills this fall.

“The hitting thing – I’m confident in my hitting. I know it’ll always be there,” Conger said. “I think any player can tell you that if you’re only playing once every three or four days, it’s tough (to produce offensively). But I didn’t earn the chance to get any more at-bats with my defense.


Tuesday's Link Attack: Dan Choi on Trial, Eden, Kim Jong Il

Gay former Army officer on trial in DC for protest
AP via Google News

A gay former Army lieutenant arrested for handcuffing himself to a White House fence during a protest is being treated differently because he is a prominent voice for gay rights, his lawyer said Monday.

Dan Choi, a West Point graduate and Iraq War veteran, is charged with disobeying police orders to leave an area in front of the White House during a November 2010 protest of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell policy.” During the protest, 13 people handcuffed themselves to the fence, some in uniform, chanting slogans including “let us serve.”

Choi’s attorney Robert Feldman said Monday at the start of his trial in federal court in Washington that people arrested for protesting at the White House are usually charged in local court where the penalty for disobeying a police order is a fine of between $100 and $1,000. But Choi was charged in federal court, where he faces both a fine and jail time of up to six months.

Survivor of human trafficking and sex slavery on set for film shooting in Kirkland
Kirkland Reporter (Wash.)

The movie, “Eden,” that was partially being filmed in Kirkland Thursday was inspired by [Chong Kim’s] true story as a survivor of domestic human trafficking and sexual slavery. The film stars actress Jamie Chung and actor Beau Bridges.

Japanese journalists ‘offered $10,000′ for video of Kim Jong-Il
Russian International News Agency

Japanese journalists offered supermarket staff $10,000 for footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il’s visit to their East Siberian store, a spokesperson for the supermarket said on Tuesday.

To Foreigners in Korea: Please learn a little Korean
Marmot’s Hole

A video is circulating on the Korean Internet of a black gentleman yelling at and threatening an elderly Korean couple.

His violent behavior was the result of him misunderstanding the elderly man’s comment to him. The elderly man reportedly said “니가 여기 앉아” (a sign of consideration) but not knowing Korean, the man in question interpreted “니가” as the N-word which led to his violent outburst.

“Obstructing Business”: South Koreans on the March
Huffington Post

I was in Seoul, South Korea this month at the invitation of the wonderful EBS TV Documentary Festival, and was truly, happily surprised to see a resurgence of activism among ordinary Koreans. Don’t get me wrong. Since its founding, Korea has had a tradition of fierce, die-hard activism (which Koreans themselves may attribute to a diet high in garlic and red pepper, as well as their commitment to social justice), but this ferocity seemed to have gone dormant in the mid-nineties. I was overjoyed to find that this was no longer the case.

Angels’ Conger proud of Ocean View Little Leaguers
Orange County Register

ESPN’s cameras were in the Angels’ clubhouse before the game Sunday as part of the network’s ‘Baseball Tonight’ coverage. They caught several Angels gathered around the big-screen TV, watching the Ocean View Little League team beat the Japanese team, 2-1, in the Little League World Series championship game.

While there were “friendly wagers” among a few players, rookie catcher Hank Conger had the most direct rooting interest. The Huntington Beach native played for Ocean View and reached the West Region championship in 2000 before losing.