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Two-time reigning baseball MVP still sees room for improvement for 2014

Two-time reigning baseball MVP still sees room for improvement for 2014

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Published : 2014-01-02 14:28
Updated : 2014-01-02 14:28

Park Byung-ho, the two-time reigning most valuable player in South Korean baseball, still thinks he has room to improve in 2014.

The slugging first baseman for the Nexen Heroes in the Korea Baseball Organization said on Thursday despite winning the past two MVP honors, he has long ways to go.

"I have to take the next step this year," Park told Yonhap News Agency in a phone interview. "I've come a long way to get to where I am, and I have to keep improving."

The 27-year-old has indeed taken a long journey to become the league's premier slugger. He is entering his eighth KBO season, but he's only been a full-time player since 2012, his first MVP season.

He was drafted by the LG Twins in 2005 but never played more than 79 games there before getting traded to the Heroes during the 2011 season.

He showed glimpses of promise with 13 home runs in 66 games in 2011, and then exploded for KBO-leading 31 homers and 105 RBIs in 2012 to earn his first MVP honors. Park was even better in 2013, setting career-highs with 37 home runs, 117 RBIs, 91 runs scored, 92 walks and a .602 slugging percentage. He led the league in all of those categories and raised his batting average from .290 to .318.

Park was a landslide MVP winner last year, and his annual salary has skyrocketed from 42 million won ($39,770) in 2011 to 500 million won for this season.

He attributed his success in 2013 to his ability to keep his emotions in check.

"Before the 2013 season began, there were whispers that I would struggle once pitchers started figuring me out," Park said. "In the past, I might have been distracted by those words, but I was determined to stay calm and focused, and that led to an even better season than I had in 2012."

With two straight outstanding seasons, Park has turned his skeptics into believers. The 2014 season could be yet another productive one for Park, as a recent league rule change has brought in some big foreign bats who could push the South Korean slugger for the home run title.

The KBO recently decided to add an extra spot for foreign players on active rosters and allow teams to carry up to three imports. The quota is four foreigners for the expansion NC Dinos.

Teams also must include at least one position player, and proven Major League Baseball bats like Jorge Cantu and Luke Scott have signed with KBO teams this offseason.

Park said he is ready for any challenge thrown his way by ex-MLB hitters.

"I think it will be an opportunity for me to grow even more," he said. "As a professional ball player, I am up for any sort of competition. Foreign players may have more raw power, but I also have my own strengths. The competition is good, but I'd also like to learn from their strong points."

Park said he also aspires to make his first national team this September when South Korea will be the home team at the Asian Games held in Incheon, a metropolitan city just west of Seoul.

He was a controversial snub for the national team at the World Baseball Classic last March. Though he was coming off an MVP season, Park lost out to battle-tested veterans at the deep first base spot. Park shrugged off the omission, saying, "At least I made the preliminary roster, and that gave me some hope that I could one day be on the national team."

The durable Park has played every game in the past two years, and he said he hopes to keep his streak alive in 2014.

"I know this may sound corny," Park offered, "but more than any other record, my primary goal this year is to play every game." (Yonhap News)

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