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At age 37, ‘Zero’ Lim finally called up to MLB

South Korean relief pitcher Lim Chang-yong was called up from the Triple-A league by the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday, becoming the oldest South Korean rookie ever in U.S. Major League Baseball at the age of 37.

Lim, who started his career in South Korea in 1995 and has also played in the Japanese and U.S. minor leagues, said he was “nervous and excited” about pitching in the majors. “I want to see what it feels like,” said Lim, also known as “Mr. Zero” for his prowess for closing out games.

The Cubs picked up the side-arm pitcher from their Triple-A affiliate Iowa Cubs and made him eligible for their Wednesday home game against the Miami Marlins. Lim did not play, as the Cubs beat the Marlins 9-7.

Lim became the 14th South Korean ever to join an MLB team. There are only two other active Koreans in the league: Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers and outfielder Choo Shin-soo of the Cincinnati Reds.

Lim’s long-overdue signing with an MLB club caps off a years-long dream that actually began in 2002 when he was with the Samsung Lions of South Korea’s professional league. The closer had a chance to make the jump, but decided to forgo the chance due to the lower-than-expected bidding price of $650,000.

In the following season, he signed with Yakult Swallows in the Central League of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, where he played for five seasons. There, he earned the nicknamed “Mr. Zero” after not allowing a single run for 33 straight games.

Unable to give up his dreams of playing in the majors, Lim signed a two-year deal with the Cubs in December.

He had to spend the first half of the 2013 season recovering from the Tommy John elbow reconstructive surgery he had last summer. Upon his return in June, he started from scratch in the rookie league. From then on, he clawed his way up to Triple-A by the end of July.

While considered a quality pitcher in Asian leagues, he is still a non-entity in the U.S. The Cubs’ head coach Dale Sveum admitted that he did not know much about the newest Cub other than his nickname.

The little-known right-hander is entrusted with a task of helping about a team who is second to last in the MLB National League at dismal 59-80. Fans in South Korea expressed hopes that Lim would help the Cubs break the so-called “Curse of the Billy Goat” of 1945, which supposedly jinxed the team from winning their first World Series championship since 1908.

“I heard about it,” Lim said of the infamous curse. “Hopefully, maybe they can make a change.”



By Yoon Min-sik
(minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)
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