Korean MLB fans’ dilemma: Root for Angels or Conger or Choo?

October 2, 2015
Texas Rangers outfielder Choo Shin-soo, left, and Houston Astros Catcher Hank Conger may have to duke it out in a single-game elimination game to decide to comes out on top in the American League West Division. (AP Photos)

Texas Rangers outfielder Choo Shin-soo, left, and Houston Astros Catcher Hank Conger may have to duke it out in a single-game elimination game to decide to comes out on top in the American League West Division. (AP Photos)

By Brian Han

With the 2015 major league regular season coming to a close, it’s time decide whose wagon to hitch — especially if your favorite team is already out of the playoff race.

For fans of Korean baseball players, the options became limited over the course of the year.

First the Los Angeles Dodgers’ starting pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin underwent a season-ending shoulder surgery back in May, which left a void in a city with the largest Korean population in the U.S. according to the Census Bureau.

So fans turned their sights east to Pittsburgh where a South Korean newcomer was making his case for Rookie of the Year. Kang Jung-ho batted .287 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs in 126 games. He was a middle infielder who could really swing the bat, and he elevated an already strong playoff-bound Pirates team.

Then on Sept. 15 his season came to a screeching halt after he broke his leg and tore knee ligaments following a brutal collision at second base. He’ll be gone for six to eight months, which rules him out completely for the postseason.

Now the attention of Korean fans is being redirected to the Lone Star State.

Veteran outfielder Choo Shin-soo finally found his groove after a miserable 2015 start that was not only one of his worst performances in his 11-year big league career, but also in the history of the Texas Rangers. Without dwelling too much on the details, the 33-year-old batted below .100 after the first full month of the season.

Impressive though was his subsequent return to form. To be fair, he’s not stealing bases like he used to and his strikeout rates are suspect, but for the most part his power and consistency at the plate are back. He’s become a crucial bat in the Rangers lineup and raised his average to .274 with 21 home runs and 79 RBIs. If he hits one more long ball, he’ll tie his career-high.

The Rangers are riding a hot streak and have gone 13-5 in their last 18 games. They’ve clinched a playoff spot, but haven’t closed out their division quite yet. The turning point came in mid-September when the team swept the Houston Astros in a three-game home series to take the lead in the American League West Division.

But the Astros have a pretty good reason to attract Korean fans as well. Catcher Hank “Choi Hyun” Conger told the Korea Times that he’s found a better fit with his new team after leaving the Los Angeles Angels. The 27-year-old Korean American spent the first nine years of his career in his hometown, so those words aren’t to be taken lightly.

If we’re going by the numbers, it’s true. Conger blasted his first ever major league grand slam in August and launched another in September. He set a new career-high with 11 home runs this season.

For Korean fans, both Conger and Choo can be a delight to watch. It won’t be easy choosing between the two, especially when both are in danger of being eliminated in a single wildcard game.

Here’s the scenario.

The Rangers are three games ahead of the Astros. Both teams have three games left to play. If the Rangers lose out to the Angels and the Astros win all their games against the Arizona Diamondbacks, they will finish the season with the exact same record.

What does that mean?

Before the wildcard single-game elimination, the two teams would play another single-game elimination for the division title.

For Korean fans, that kind of match up will provide all the drama needed to kick off the playoffs.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the Angels are only a game behind the Astros for the final wildcard spot, which introduces a a third team to the mix.

The final player to watch is the New York Yankees’ rookie second baseman Robert Refsnyder. The South Korean adoptee had fans and teammates roaring Thursday with his second homer of the season in a win that guaranteed a playoff berth.

In just 35 at-bats, the 24-year-old is batting .286.

The Yankees regular second baseman Stephen Drew might be out for the season after suffering a concussion, so there’s definitely a chance that Refsnyder will be joining the team for the postseason when they reduce the roster from 40 to 25 players.

If you’re following Korean baseball players, it comes down to the Rangers, Astros or Yankees. Which team will you choose?

One Comment

  1. Ren

    October 11, 2015 at 8:46 AM

    Still what really baffles me though is why the Korean media didn’t even bother showing their highlights back in the regular season, nor even mentioned Refsnyder and Conger’s name in one of their outlets… Back when Refsnyder made his debut with the Yankees- Ytnnews, Tvchanews, MBCnews, KBS and TVchosun ignored his ML debut, I waited for nearly a week hoping for his name to get mentioned, but nothing happened… Not even one single media outlet even bothered showing his ML debut with the Yanks nor his first ML hit. Same with Conger, I haven’t even seen one single video highlight or story in him in the regular season. Unlike Choo Shin-soo, Ryu Hyun-jin and Kang Jung-ho, who are always number one in their top stories.