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Hee Seop Choi finds Miami to his liking


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MIAMI (AP) - Hee Seop Choi has never felt so comfortable so far from home.


Manager Jack McKeon has given him a few nicknames, including "Big Choi" and "Big I-Hop." Third base coach Jeff Cox has learned several Korean phrases. And in less than a week, fans have started chanting his name during at-bats.


"It's got to be a plus for him," McKeon said. "To get received like this has got to be a tremendous lift for him. He's come out and done it early and gotten the fans on his side. It's got to help his confidence."


Choi hit three home runs in Florida's first six games, helping the World Series champions get off to the best start in the National League at 5-1.


Florida's pitching has been the key; the starters have a 1.93 ERA and 41 strikeouts with just nine walks in 42 1-3 innings. They also are 6-for-12 at the plate.


But Choi's bat was the difference in two close games.


The 25-year-old South Korean, acquired in the trade that sent Gold Glove first baseman Derrek Lee to the Chicago Cubs, drove in three runs in a 4-3 victory over Montreal on opening day. He hit a two-run homer estimated at 419 feet in his first at-bat.


Then with the game tied 2-2 and men on first and third, Choi topped a grounder to second that brought home the go-ahead run.


On Saturday, Choi hit two solo homers in a 4-3 win over Philadelphia. The first was a line drive that barely cleared the fence but prompted team owner Jeffrey Loria to tell Choi after the game that it was the "hardest home run I've ever seen hit."


Choi's second of the game had a sellout crowd chanting his name.


"I heard that a lot in Chicago," Choi said through an interpreter. "I didn't expect to hear that here so soon. I was happy."


Choi gets more attention back home than fellow countrymen Chan Ho Park (Texas), Byung-Hyun Kim (Boston) and Sun-Woo Kim (Montreal) because he is the only position player from his country in the major leagues. The series finale against the Phillies on Sunday was televised nationally in South Korea with a 4:05 a.m. local start.


Choi is enjoying his role with the Marlins and likes playing in Florida more than he did Chicago, the franchise he signed with in 1999. The biggest reason is his relationship with McKeon, Cox and hitting coach Bill Robinson.


The coaches have gone out of their way to communicate with the six-foot-five first baseman. Even though Choi speaks and understands some English, McKeon and Cox learned about a dozen Korean phrases during spring training to use in the clubhouse and dugout. "Cho ta," which means "great job," is their most popular one.


"I sympathize with him, I really do," Robinson said. "I realize how tough it's got to be here. It's a different culture, a different way of life. But the thing we've got to remember is it's still baseball. And he knows baseball."


Robinson hasn't picked up Korean quite like the other coaches, so he typically just shows Choi he wants him to do and he does it.


"It's like sign language," Robinson said. "Luckily for us, he's smart and he learns fast."


Choi hit .218 with eight homers in 80 games with the Cubs last season. No one expected him to fully replace Lee, who made eye-opening plays at first base and hit .271 with 31 homers and 92 RBIs.


"Replacing Derrek Lee isn't easy," catcher Mike Redmond said. "But he's showing everybody what kind of player he is. He's going to be a big part of our offence and our team. And it's great to see him off to such a great start."

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I'd love to see the Cubs tearing their hair out over losing another great player.

Amen! Remember how they would laugh at us right after the Lee/Choi trade? LOL





I second what Max said in his post. Hearing the fans chanting his name at the game was quite amazing. I am really happy for "He Who Soup" and I hope he keeps doing well. He has won the hearts of Marlins fans, that's for sure. :)

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