This Associated Press file photo from March 27, 2021, shows Kim Ha-seong of the San Diego Padres in spring training action against the Los Angeles Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. (Yonhap)
It was a day of firsts for the San Diego Padres' South Korean infielder Kim Ha-seong.
In his first major league start against the Arizona Diamondbacks in San Diego on Saturday (local time), Kim also picked up his first hit and RBI.
He ended the game 2-for-4 with an RBI and a strikeout. The Padres prevailed 7-0.
Kim got the start at second base and batted sixth at Petco Park. Kim had come off the bench on Opening Day on Thursday but struck out swinging. He sat out the next game before getting the call to start the game Saturday.
With the regular first baseman Eric Hosmer taking the day off, the usual second baseman Jake Cronenworth slid over to first base, leaving second base open for Kim.
"I wasn't nervous at all. I just wanted to do my best to help the team win," Kim said of getting the first start. "I was excited to play at a stadium I've always dreamed of playing at. And with fans cheering us on, it made the whole experience so much better."
Kim stepped up with two outs in the first, and the Padres were up 1-0 with runners at first and second base against starter Caleb Smith. Kim fell behind 0-2 in the count, but fouled off a pitch before taking three straight balls.
Kim then drilled a four-seam fastball, clocked at 91.8 miles per hour, through the hole in left to drive Wil Myers in from second base.
Kim led off the bottom third with a sharp single to left, with Smith still on the mound for the Diamondbacks. But Kim was stranded there as the next three San Diego hitters went down in order.
Kim came up for the third time in the bottom fourth, at two outs with runners at first and second, and with a new pitcher, Riley Smith, on the mound.
Kim worked the count to full again but got called out on strikes this time, with a 93.1 mph sinker catching the upper part of the zone.
Kim's fourth plate appearance came in the bottom sixth, with the Padres ahead 7-0 and a runner at second base with two outs. With Riley Smith still pitching, Kim fell behind 0-2, saw two straight balls, and then popped out to first base to end the inning.
The Padres made a double switch in the top seventh to take Kim out of the game. Cronenworth moved over to second base to take Kim's spot. Jurickson Profar was inserted into the ninth spot to replace pitcher Joe Musgrove in the batting order, while taking over first base from Cronenworth. New pitcher Ryan Weathers was penciled in as the new No. 6 hitter, a spot formerly occupied by Kim.
Kim's parents traveled from South Korea to watch their son in the majors. Kim said having his family in the stands for his first hit and RBI made it extra sweet.
"They were worried about me being in a foreign country alone, and they wanted to come over here and take care of me," Kim said. "I missed my family. My mother especially has been supportive throughout my career, and I feel comfortable having her around. My family wanted me to succeed as much as I did."
Kim added his coaching staff and teammates have also helped make his transition easier.
"My teammates are so great, and I want to get to the ballpark early every day just to see the guys," Kim said. "
Kim signed a four-year, US$28 million contract with the Padres in December, following seven successful seasons with the Kiwoom Heroes in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).
In Korea, Kim had mostly played shortstop, with some cameo appearances at third base, but the Padres see him as a utility man. The left side of the infield is already accounted for, with MVP candidate Manny Machado at the hot corner and up-and-coming franchise star Fernando Tatis Jr. manning shortstop.
Cronenworth, a finalist for the Rookie of the Year award last year, beat Kim for the regular second base gig in spring training, as the South Korean batted only 7-for-42 with no extra-base hits.
Kim saw action in four different positions during spring: second base, shortstop, third base and left field.
"After seven years in Korea, it's obviously difficult to make all necessary adjustments here in just two months," Kim said. "But baseball is the same. I have to get acclimated as quickly as I can and help the team win."
One major shift for Kim has been adjusting to life as a utility man who will be brought off the bench more often than not. In the KBO, Kim was an everyday player, and he had his own set of routines to prepare for each game as such.
"I have to keep doing well to earn an opportunity to play," Kim said. "Pinch hitting is not easy. I have to make sure I play well when I do get a chance to start."
Kim said he hadn't yet received the ball for his first hit. The Padres dugout asked for the ball, and Machado playfully tossed a different ball into the stands, a mischievous act that Kim said he never saw.
Asked if he was able to relax after getting the first hit out of the way, Kim said, "This is just the beginning. If I keep focusing on trying to help the team win, then good results will follow." (Yonhap)