Though he is entering his 19th season in the Korea Baseball Organization, Park Jin-man, shortstop of the SK Wyverns, said he still gets nervous ahead of the start of a new season.
“Every year, opening day puts a lot of pressure on me,” Park said on the sidelines of the annual KBO media day in Seoul. The 2014 KBO season will begin on Saturday.
“It’s probably more so this year because I know I don’t have a lot of baseball left in me.”
Park will don the captain’s “C” on his uniform this year. This will be the second time that the 37-year-old will serve in that role ― in 2009, he was the captain for the Samsung Lions.
SK Wyverns shortstop Park Jin-man (Yonhap)
He said the captaincy feels different now because he’s now the second oldest player on the team, behind catcher Cho In-sung, whereas he had a handful of older teammates and other veterans to fall back on five years ago.
Park added that the pressure on the Wyverns to improve on last year’s performance will add to the sense of responsibility as the captain.
The Wyverns missed the postseason in 2013, finishing in sixth place with a 62-63-3 record, after reaching the championship Korean Series for a record six straight seasons. They won it all in 2007, 2008 and 2010.
Though Park wasn’t on those championship squads ― he joined the Wyverns after the 2010 season ― he said he knows how important it is to recapture some of the glory in 2014.
“Our team had enjoyed a great run until last year, and it’s important to get back on track this year,” he said. “If we struggle again, then whatever we accomplished earlier will be for naught. So that puts a lot of pressure on me as the new captain.”
He said he was grateful to his teammates for taking the initiative in spring training, fully knowing what’s at stake.
And his younger teammates have plenty of reasons to look up to their new captain. He has put together an impressive resume as one of the KBO’s finest shortstops ever. It’s a status backed by his credentials both in the domestic league and international tournaments.
Park, who was drafted out of high school by the now-defunct Hyundai Unicorns ahead of the 1996 season, went on to win four championships with that club. He then joined the Lions as a free agent in 2005 and promptly helped them win championships in 2005 and 2006. He was voted the MVP of the 2006 Korean Series and also has five Golden Gloves to his credit. Park has also had a stellar international career. He was the starting shortstop for the gold medal-winning South Korea at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and started the title-clinching double play against Cuba in the gold medal contest.
Two years earlier at the inaugural World Baseball Classic, Park made some dazzling plays that turned heads of international fans and scouts, as South Korea marched into the semifinals. He was also on the national team when South Korea won bronze at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and gold at the 2002 Busan Asian Games.
The 2014 Wyverns aren’t nearly as talented as those national teams that Park played on, or even as some of the earlier Wyverns squads that won the KBO titles. Yet Park believes a baseball club can always make up for its deficiency in skills with teamwork.
Park said he tries to share with his teammates some of the wisdom he gained from playing in international events.
“I tried to tell them that in most of those international games, our national team had no business beating some of the teams based on talent on paper,” Park said. “Yet we came out on top because we were mentally strong, and we were able to play well as a team. Baseball is a team game, and when we can play together, we can always win.”
Park recalled that when he was on the Lions, the Wyverns had been “the toughest, most annoying opponent” because of their team-oriented approach. The Wyverns swept the Lions in the 2010 Korean Series.
“The players didn’t need to be told what they should do,” Park said. “It’s more difficult to beat a team with many dedicated, hard-working players than a team with one superstar.”
Park said he is more desperate than before to help his club win, aware that his clock is ticking. “As I get older, I take longer to recover from bumps and bruises, or whatever nagging injuries I might sustain,” he said with a wry smile. “I entered spring training this year thinking this could be my last. And it’s going to be the same with the regular season. I will go into every game as if it could be the last one I play.” (Yonhap)