Shin-soo Choo is a major league baseball player a lot of pitchers would rather not face. As the clean up batter on the Cleveland Indians, he was also a key component on the Korean national baseball team during the World Baseball Classic. Below is an excerpt from an interview he did with Dong-A Ilbo.
Dong-A: Koreans such as Park Chan-ho, Kim Byung-hyun and Seo Jae-weung succeeded as pitchers in Major League Baseball, but you seem like the first to do so as a batter. What does it feel like to become a major batter in the majors?
Choo: I’m not satisfied with myself at the moment. I feel like I need to do more to prove such a reputation. This is only my first season as a full-time runner and the season has yet to end. I’m maintaining a good sense of batting but there’s no end in learning when it comes to baseball. I see new techniques coming out every day, and I have to get used to the balls thrown by new pitchers. You simply cannot survive with old techniques. You have to keep working. I tape my batting every day and analyze it to see whether I’m doing anything wrong.
Dong-A: You are the first Korean to be nominated for the Hank Aaron Award. How does that feel?
Choo: It’s nothing. It might be a big deal in Korea, but not in the United States. It’s an honor to be a nominee, but I know I’m not going to be the winner. There are so many other outstanding batters in the majors. Every team gets two to three nominees, so I’m just one of them.
Dong-A: What was your most difficult moment?
Choo: I had the hardest time in 2001 and 2002 when I first came to the United States after graduating high school in Korea. I had problems with communication and I was lonely because I had no friends. I can communicate well now, though my English might not be perfect.
Dong-A: Do you take English lessons?
Choo: I didn’t take any lessons but I learned by talking to other players. I had a dedicated interpreter for the first two years but not anymore.
Dong-A: Are you aware of your popularity among American fans?
Choo: Many American fans seemed to notice me after the second half of last year, when I began to bat well. We have individual mailboxes and mine is full of fan mail usually asking for my autograph. Unfortunately, I cannot reply to all of them.
Dong-A: What advice do you have for Korean players who wish to play in Major League Baseball?
Choo: I played with my Korean teammates in this year’s World Baseball Classic and the national team is one of the world’s best. Baseball itself is not much different between the two countries, but rather a matter of culture and style. It all boils down to how well Korean players can adapt to the style of American baseball, which is different from Korea’s. I might be doing well here in the States, but I might struggle in Korea. Any player who comes to America should be ready to start from scratch. Even if you were the best player in Korea, you have to swallow your pride.
Dong-A: You might still have to serve your mandatory military service as a Korean male. Is the Asian Games next year your last chance to get a draft exemption?
Choo: That’s a very tricky issue I’ve been discussing with the team, but I’ve not received any confirmation. I want to play in the Asian Games but I’d need permission from my current team.
Dong-A: You have a sticker of the Korean national flag on your bat. Why?
Choo: Many Americans do not know about Korea. I want to let them know more about my country. I had the sticker at the end of the bat since it is often captured on camera. These days, many fans come to the stadium with a picture of the flag.
Dong-A: How do you manage your health?
Choo: I try to sleep a lot, at least eight to nine hours a day. I can get rid of fatigue by sleeping. I also eat red ginseng jelly and juice every day. I even eat jelly in games as a snack. I used to sweat a lot, but after eating red ginseng, I began to sweat less and grew less tired.
Dong-A: What is your ultimate goal?
Choo: I first want to do my best in the United States. I want to be remembered as a long-time starter instead of doing well just for a couple of seasons and then disappearing. I still have a long way toward achieving that goal.