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Dozens or hundreds of prospects become professional players every year with their dreams of becoming major leaguers, but only a few of them take the major league stage.
The door, which was narrow at the same time, has become narrower recently as Major League teams have reduced the size of minor league players. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a good cause for them.
LG Twins rookie right-hander Jin Woo-young, 23, was the scapegoat of the tide. The former Kansas City Royals minor league player pitched well at the rookie level in 2019 with a 14-game ERA of 2.35 but was off the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and slumped to a 5.46 ERA in 18 games in 2021.
32 games and 77 1/3 innings in two seasons. This was all he was given.
"It was a shame at first. I was going to try something and it felt like it was over."
Jin Woo-young, who met at Indian School Park in Scottsdale, Arizona, where the LG Spring Camp was set up, recalled that time.
It wasn't the usual bread soaked in tears, but the scorching heat in Arizona in the middle of summer made it hard for him. "It was hard to train as it reached 49 degrees Celsius. I played games at night, but it was still hot. Fighting the heat was the hardest thing."
The break in a year caused by the pandemic was a fatal blow. There is no "what if" in life, but if it weren't for the pandemic, his career might have looked different than it does now.
"The team judged that the previous year's performance (2019) was so good, so if that sense continued (2020), there might have been other results. Anyway, it's a case-of-fact situation."
There is no end to lamenting the past. But he took a different path.
"I thought it was an inevitable situation. I didn't try to feel sorry that I was tied to it. I made a plan in a hurry to change the situation, and I put it into action."
Thus, he calmly resolved the issues that were imminent. He completed his military service as a full-time reserve. After work and work, he continued to work out his body. After being discharged from military service, he built his sense of play at the Paju Challengers, an independent team.
"I joined the club to improve my sense of play because I had no sense of play. I gradually found the sense of play that I lost. I am grateful for helping me find sense of play."
Making his body at the Paju Challengers, he was selected by LG with the 38th overall pick in the fourth round in the 2024 Rookie Draft.
As such, he became stronger little by little. Now he is strong enough to say, "I came back after learning without much regret. I don't think it's too bad."
Elin, who joined LG's Children's Association as a child and cheered for the team in the uniforms of Lim Chan-kyu, Lee Dae-hyung and Kim Hyun-soo, has now grown into a player of the team.
"I've only watched it from above before, but it's a new situation where I can play if I'm good at it. As a player, it feels new to wear a uniform," he said.
Currently, he is preparing for the season with the help of his seniors at the spring camp. "I feel like I'm in Arizona with a Korean here," he said. "The seniors are giving me a lot of advice and helping me adjust. I'm following their advice because everything they say is right."
Lim Chan-kyu was chosen as the senior who helped a lot. "I personally didn't like the bullpen session, but I'm holding my heart because you gave me a lot of advice."
Casey Kelly, the ace player of the team, is ready to help him, too. "When I said hi, he said hi in English. If you want to learn the curveball, I will definitely teach you. I am learning whenever there is a good ball from another player. If you ask me, I will teach you anything."
In response, Jin Woo-young expressed her gratitude, saying, "I want to take time to get closer and ask in the way that I don't get in the way when I have an opportunity."
He is not an ordinary rookie. He has come back a long way, but his experiences in the process will be a good source of nourishment. He said, "If the team says I will use it like this, I will prepare well accordingly. My goal is to work hard and debut in a professional league. I am a college graduate, but I still have solved military problems and think I have an advantage. Now that I have fulfilled my obligations, I have nothing more to do than baseball. If I focus, I will be better than before," he said.
Then there is another goal. "There is no rule not to come back (to the U.S.). The last goal is to come back if I can come back here. (Major League) is anyone's goal. If I continue to build my career step by step, I think I will get good results someday," he said, expressing his ambition to re-try the U.S. stage.
His dream only grows bigger when he sees Bobby Witt Jr., a former rookie and now a starting shortstop in the Kansas City Royals. "He was a kid with different talents and capabilities. In his first year, he was a high school graduate and had a small physique, but when he returned in the following season, he had completely changed. Since then, he unleashed his potential and instantly rose to the big leagues. I envy him when he saw such a scene. He played baseball with that dream. It motivates me. I am working hard to become like him."
Jin also has a background of growing up as a "studying athlete" from a global advanced school. Jin said his success could serve as a good example, expressing a sense of responsibility. "Recently, the trend is to study and play baseball games in the U.S. Many people are against this, but I want to show that I can be successful in baseball even if I do this."
If he achieves all his desired goals, he will be able to grow into an exemplary player for many people, just like he said. What kind of baseball player does Jin want to be remembered at the end of that goal? He emphatically said this.
"I want to be a player who gives good influence to people both in baseball and outside of baseball. I want to be a player who plays baseball that fans who come to see my game enjoy."
Friday, February 9, 2024