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Korean slugger Park Byung-ho adjusting to life in America

March 1, 2016

The 29-year-old says he has found a lot of things he likes off the field – namely American food and driving conditions. He is scheduled to make his Twins debut as the DH against the Boston Red Sox in the teams’ Grapefruit League opener on Wednesday.

Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer (7) stands with teammate Byung Ho Park, of South Korea, during a spring training baseball workout in Fort Myers, Fla., Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer (7) stands with teammate Byung Ho Park, of South Korea, during a spring training baseball workout in Fort Myers, Fla., Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Korean slugger Byung Ho Park has found a lot of things he likes off the field, namely American food and navigating the streets.

He’ll be learning to adjust on the field soon, too. The right-handed batter is scheduled to make his Minnesota Twins debut as the designated hitter against the Boston Red Sox in the teams’ Grapefruit League opener on Wednesday.

The Twins signed the 29-year-old Park to a four-year, $12-million deal during the offseason after making a $12.85 million winning bid to negotiate with him.

Get acclimating to a lifestyle in a new country has its challenges — dealing with the language, meeting new teammates and understanding the talent he’s about the face.
But there was one thing he was certain about.

“Steaaaak,” he said in English, breaking into a grin and stretching the word when asked about his favorite food. “Big ribs, too.”

Park, who is expected to get a heavy plate of at-bats, has brought added attention to Twins’ camp. On the first day of full workouts, there were about a dozen Korean reporters covering his every move. At the start, many of them ventured down the right-field line to get a better look, prompting a member of the club’s media relations staff to head down to bring them back into the infield.

“They came from far, far away,” Park said through a translator Tuesday. “Sometimes it might feel like it’s too much, too much going on just on me, so I kind of feel bad for the other guys. I respect what they do for their living. They’re here to see me, trying to pass along me being here to the fans in Korea. I respect that.”

Manager Paul Molitor also had to adjust. When first asked about Park by the Korean media, he gave a lengthy answer, seemingly forgetting it needed to be translated.

“Sorry, I’ll shorten up the next one,” he joked.

Park played nine seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization, hitting 210 home runs and with 604 RBIs in 868 games. Last season, he batted .343 with 53 and 146 after hitting .303 with 52 and 124 the previous year.

He enters needing at-bats, and could start the season in Triple-A due to a logjam of players that can DH or play first. He’s likely battling for a roster spot with Oswaldo Arcia, who hit 20 homers in 372 at-bats in 2014, but struggled badly last season and wasn’t called up last September. He’s out of options.

“It’s hard for me to tell right now because all I’ve been doing out here is train, train, train,” Park said. “I haven’t played a game yet, but I understand that the level of game here is higher and actually all of the pitchers that I’ll be facing, I haven’t faced them. I’ll be learning a lot and making adjustments.”

His teammates have warmed to him, with pitcher Phil Hughes inviting him over with a few others to watch “The Bachelor.”

And besides hitting balls into the gap, Park’s finding another type of driving easy.

“This is a lot easier than driving in Korea,” he said. “No problem.”

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