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Nexen slugger Park Byung-ho earns 2nd straight MVP in KBO

Park Byung-ho of the Nexen Heroes was voted the most valuable player in the top South Korean baseball league for the second straight year on Monday.

Park earned 84 out of 98 possible votes to pick up his second MVP trophy in a row in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). The slugging first baseman led the league in five offensive categories, including home runs and RBIs.

Park became just the fourth player to repeat as the MVP in the KBO, and the first since Lee Seung-yeop of the Samsung Lions won three straight from 2001 to 2003.

Outfielder Lee Byung-kyu of the LG Twins, the KBO's batting champion, finished a distant second with eight votes. Right-hander Bae Young-soo of the Samsung Lions picked up five votes after tying for the league lead with 14 victories. Left-hander Chris Seddon of the SK Wyverns, who also won 14 games this year, had one vote.

Last year, Park earned his first MVP award after leading the KBO with 31 home runs, 105 RBIs and a .561 slugging percentage. He was even more dominant this year, establishing career-highs with 37 home runs, 117 RBIs, 91 runs scored, 92 walks and a .602 slugging percentage, and leading the KBO in all five of those categories.

Showing better discipline at the plate, Park improved his batting average from .290 to a career-best .318, and lowered his strikeout total from 111 to 96 from a year ago.

Park powered the Heroes to their first-ever postseason this year. During the regular season, the Heroes led the KBO with 125 homers.

The voting was cast by members of the media on Oct. 8, hours before the start of the playoffs.

After accepting his award, Park said this year's MVP felt extra special because he helped the team make the playoffs for the first time.

"This means more to me this year because I feel like I did my job as the team's cleanup hitter," Park said. "I hope I can continue to help the team in the heart of the order."

The 2012 season was a breakout year for Park, who had previously never played in more than 100 games in each of his first five seasons. He said he wanted to show that he wouldn't be a one-hit wonder.

"I'd be lying if I didn't feel the pressure to prove myself again," Park said. "I started handling inside pitches better as the season wore on, and that gave me a lot of confidence."

Park said of all the offensive categories he topped in the KBO, he was most proud of his 92 walks, because it was proof of his improved discipline and eye at the plate. He has played every game in each of the past two years, and said his goal next season is to play every game again and to draw more walks.

Park, who hardly discusses specific statistical goals in public, said he will try to go for 40 home runs next year and entertain more baseball fans.

"It just puts an extra burden on me when I mention specific numbers, but I saw this year how fans go crazy over home runs,"

Park said. "If I were to hit more homers next year than this year, I suppose I will have to go for 40 home runs. I hope I and other sluggers can bring more excitement to ballparks."

Lee Dae-ho, currently with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan, is the last KBO player to hit at least 40 long balls, with the league-high 44 for the Lotte Giants in 2010. Before Lee, the last 40-homer man here had been Lee Seung-yeop of the Lions, with an all-time KBO record of 56 in 2003.

Also on Monday, right-handed pitcher Lee Jae-hak of the NC Dinos was voted the Rookie of the Year. He earned 77 out of 98 votes, easily beating out the Doosan Bears' left-hander Yu Hui-kwan, who earned 13 votes, and his Dinos' teammate, outfielder Na Sung-bum, who collected eight votes.

For the expansion Dinos, Lee, 23, went 10-5 with one save in 27 appearances with a 2.88 ERA, the second lowest in the KBO. He struck out 144 in 156 innings to tie for fifth in punchouts.

Lee made his KBO debut with the Bears in 2010, going 1-1 with a 5.01 ERA in 16 appearances. An elbow injury kept him out of baseball for the entire 2011 season, and he pitched for the Dinos in the second-tier Futures League in 2012, with a record of 15-2 and a 1.55 ERA.

He is the 16th pitcher to be voted the top rookie since the award was first presented in 1983.

"I am really happy with this award, because you can only win the Rookie of the Year once in your career," Lee said. "I am not even thinking about any sophomore slump next year. I will try to keep improving year after year." (Yonhap News)