Jump to content

Feature Attraction...

Recommended Posts

Posted on Thu, Mar. 11, 2004


Featured attraction




[email protected]


JUPITER - Hee Seop Choi was standing in front of his locker, holding court with a Korean TV crew after a recent game, when Marlins teammate Darren Oliver sidled up behind him and started to get dressed. By the time Oliver noticed the camera, it was too late.


'They're fixin' to see me naked on Korean TV,'' he joked.


The Marlins are getting uncommon exposure in Korea this spring, and not just in the locker room. With five Korean journalists covering Choi on a daily basis, the world champions have become front-page news in Asia.


And it's still spring training. Just wait until the regular season starts, Choi says.


''In spring training I'm in every newspaper every day,'' he says. ``In the regular season, they watch it on TV.''


In fact the Korean public's appetite for baseball coverage is so intense that Pyungyup Lee, who covers Choi for Sports Seoul 21, a daily sports and entertainment paper, says he has to file three stories a day even if Choi does nothing more than play catch.


''I have to find something,'' says Lee, who lived in Chicago last year when Choi played with the Cubs, then moved to South Florida when he was traded to the Marlins. ``Readers say we're almost like novelists. We sometimes have a small story and have to make it big.''




For the most part, Choi's new teammates have greeted the Korean media contingent -- which outnumbers the South Florida delegation -- with good humor. Manager Jack McKeon says he is studying key phrases in Korean and occasionally practices them with the reporters. Venezuelan outfielder Miguel Cabrera, Choi's best friend on the team, also has learned some words in Korean -- although his vocabulary isn't suitable for print.


''I feel very comfortable here,'' says Choi, who is unfailingly polite and speaks English haltingly. ``Here I feel, with Jack and the coaching staff, they're telling me to laugh and talking to me every day. My teammates, they like me. And I like them too.''


That wasn't always the case last year, he says. Choi opened the season as the Cubs' first baseman and was the National League's Rookie of the Month for April, when he homered in three consecutive games. But a concussion sustained in a collision with pitcher Kerry Wood in early June cost him his starting job, and he wound up appearing in just 80 games and hitting .218.


That, combined with the pressure to win in Chicago, led to an unpleasant season for Choi. ''With the Cubs, they've gone so long without a World Series championship, they wanted to win every day,'' he says. ``I want that, too. But I didn't feel comfortable.''


In Florida, McKeon has tried to calm Choi by telling him the first base job is his to lose.


''I always liked his power. I always felt he was going to be a good ballplayer,'' McKeon says. ``I don't think he was really given a legitimate chance to show that. Some guys take a little bit longer.''




The Marlins aren't the only ones hoping for a big year from the 24-year-old from Kwang Ju, where he played on the same high school team as Mets pitcher Jae Weong Seo and Boston pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim. Japanese news coverage of big-league players from that country has made Japan Major League Baseball's largest market outside the United States, says Paul Archey, MLB's senior vice president for international operations. And, given the already intense interest the Korean media have in Choi, a successful season could lead to similar marketing opportunities for baseball there.


''Hee Seop Choi is going to be a bigger deal when he establishes himself as an everyday player,'' Archey says. ``Big things are expected of him, and certainly the Korean media having an everyday player and having someone that they can follow on the world champions [is big].''


In the meantime, Choi says he's just trying to fit in -- which can be hard for someone 6-5 and followed everywhere by journalists just waiting to turn a sneeze into a front-page story.


''I like them,'' Choi says of the Korean reporters. ``It's no problem. They were there last year, too. It's no pressure.


``My job's baseball. That's it. After, I'll talk to my country. I'm happy to do that.''


Hmm... Interesting that Cabs is Choi's best friend on the team.




Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...