Ex-MLB player Choo Shin-soo says he came to KBO ‘to win championship’

March 12, 2021

When he was mulling a move to South Korea last month after 16 years in the majors, former Texas Rangers outfielder Choo Shin-soo studied the roster for the team he was about to join.

Choo liked what he saw from the SSG Landers in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) — enough that he thinks they’re a championship material.

The 38-year-old signed a one-year deal worth 2.7 billion won (US$2.3 million) with the Landers late last month, and then joined the club Thursday after completing his 14-day quarantine following his arrival in the country on Feb. 25.

Choo Shin-soo of the SSG Landers addresses his teammates and coaches at Sajik Stadium in Busan, 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on March 11, 2021. (Yonhap)
Choo Shin-soo of the SSG Landers (L) shakes hands with his teammate Jamie Romak at Sajik Stadium in Busan, 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on March 11, 2021. (Yonhap)
Choo Shin-soo of the SSG Landers (L) shakes hands with his teammates at Sajik Stadium in Busan, 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on March 11, 2021. (Yonhap)

Choo Shin-soo of the SSG Landers addresses his teammates and coaches at Sajik Stadium in Busan, 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on March 11, 2021. (Yonhap)

In his first press conference in full uniform — the team is wearing a temporary jersey while their new owner, Shinsegae Group, works on a new set — Choo made his objective clear.

“I came here to win a championship,” Choo said at Sajik Stadium in Busan, some 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, following the Landers’ unofficial practice game against the Lotte Giants.

“The decision to sign with this team came easy for me, because I felt we had enough talent to win a title,” Choo said. “At this stage in my career, I didn’t just come here to get a taste of Korean baseball. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to come to Korea because I want to win a championship.”

In 2019, Choo’s new ball club, then called the SK Wyverns, finished in ninth place among 10 teams. But they kept busy in the offseason. Before signing Choo, the Landers signed hard-hitting second baseman Choi Joo-hwan as a free agent, and acquired veteran reliver Kim Sang-su in a sign-and-trade with the Kiwoom Heroes. They also have two new foreign starters in the rotation: Wilmer Font and Artie Lewicki.

And now comes Choo, one of the most successful Asian-born hitters in the majors. Choo had 218 homers and 782 RBIs in the majors, more than any other Asian players in big league history.

Earlier in the day, Landers manager Kim Won-hyong said he envisions Choo mostly batting second and playing left field in the regular season. Choo, who batted in the leadoff spot for most of his major league career, said it doesn’t matter where he bats in the lineup, as long as he can help the club.

“I just want to help the team win, and I’ll be ready to hit from any spot in the lineup,” Choo said. “I preferred batting leadoff in the majors because then I would get a few extra at-bats. But that was the only reason.”

Choo is from Busan and grew up watching KBO games at Sajik Stadium. His uncle, Park Jung-tae, was an All-Star second baseman for the Giants, and Choo once spoke of desire to play for the Giants one day.

“This is where my dream of becoming a baseball player began,” Choo said. “Now that I am back here on the first day with my new team, my goal has just become clearer.”

Choo said he won’t have any special feelings going up against the Giants, his hometown team that also happens to employ his childhood friend, Lee Dae-ho, at first base. The two teams will collide on Opening Day on April 3.

“To me, Lotte is just one of the nine teams that we have to face. They’re all the same to me,” Choo said. “Dae-ho and I have been friends and rivals since we were little. We’re both professional ball players and I think he’ll want to win as much as I do. I think this will give fans something to watch.”

Choo tried to keep in shape during his 14-day quarantine, doing weights and riding his stationary bike. But above all, Choo said he missed baseball.

“I was just dying to play,” he said. “I think I’ve been able to play this game as long as I have, because I still have that kind of drive and passion.”

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