Retiring pitcher has no regrets after sacrificing for club

September 28, 2018

SEOUL, Sept. 28 (Yonhap) — Veteran pitcher Bong Jung-keun said Friday he has no regrets as he retires from baseball, knowing he gave everything he had to the only club he’s known in the South Korean league.

The LG Twins’ left-hander first announced his retirement from the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) in a statement last Wednesday. The Twins set up a press conference for Bong at their home park, Jamsil Stadium in Seoul, and plan to hold a retirement ceremony after a game against the Kia Tigers later Friday.

Bong’s retirement comes at a critical juncture for the Twins, who are sitting one game back of the Tigers for the fifth and the wild card spot with seven games remaining in the regular season.

LG Twins' pitcher Bong Jung-keun speaks at his retirement press conference at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on Sept. 28, 2018. (Yonhap)

LG Twins’ pitcher Bong Jung-keun speaks at his retirement press conference at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on Sept. 28, 2018. (Yonhap)

Bong thanked the Twins for organizing a special event for him when doing so could have been an unnecessary distraction, and added that his love of the Twins runs deep.

“I wasn’t sure if I should have a retirement ceremony when the team is in a tough battle,” Bong said. “But everyone on the team, from front office staff to coaches and players, said they’d love to have one for me. I grew up rooting for this club, and having played for the Twins means so much to me.”

Bong’s last regular season game came in October 2016. He missed all of last year and this year after shoulder operation in June 2017.

Still, Bong said he can hold his head high on his way out because of all the work he’s put in for the Twins.

“As long as fans understand that I sacrificed my elbow and shoulder for this team and that I helped the club through some difficult times, I won’t have regrets,” Bong said.

Bong signed with the Atlanta Braves out of high school in 1997 and appeared in 48 games for them and the Cincinnati Reds over three seasons starting in 2002. He compiled a 7-4 record and a 5.17 ERA in the bigs. Bong went 47-42 with a 3.73 ERA in 148 minor league appearances.

Bong enjoyed a more successful career with the Twins. In 10 seasons, Bong was 55-46 with 109 saves and a 3.41 ERA in 321 games. He began his Twins’ stint as a starter and won 32 games with a 3.17 ERA from 2008 to 2010.

Following an elbow surgery that limited him to four appearances in 2011, Bong became the Twins’ closer in 2012. All of his 109 career saves came between 2012 and 2015.

In this file photo from Oct. 14, 2016, Bong Jung-keun, then pitching for the LG Twins, throws a pitch against the Nexen Heroes in the bottom of the sixth inning of a Korea Baseball Organization postseason game at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. Bong retired from baseball at age 38 on Sept. 28, 2018. (Yonhap)

In this file photo from Oct. 14, 2016, Bong Jung-keun, then pitching for the LG Twins, throws a pitch against the Nexen Heroes in the bottom of the sixth inning of a Korea Baseball Organization postseason game at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. Bong retired from baseball at age 38 on Sept. 28, 2018. (Yonhap)

But then came another injury — this time on his shoulder — his rehab from that 2017 surgery took longer than he’d anticipated. And Bong said he made up his mind to call in quits in July this year, when he suffered a setback.

“I guess I was too old to be going through such a grueling rehab, and this year was by far the toughest,” Bong said. “My shoulder started hurting again in July after I faced actual hitters. That’s when I decided I couldn’t go on any longer.”

Bong said he’s spoken with Los Angeles Dodgers’ left-hander Ryu Hyun-jin, one of his close friends and also a pitcher with a history of shoulder and elbow operations, about his decision.

“When I told him I was going to retire, he didn’t believe it,” Bong said. “He said if I can just pitch through pain for a bit, I should come out okay. But I told him my pain was just unbearable.”

Bong also thrived in international competitions for South Korea. He won Olympic gold in 2008, Asian Games gold medals in 2010 and 2014 and helped South Korea to second place at the 2009 World Baseball Classic (WBC).

LG Twins' pitcher Bong Jung-keun poses next to the team's logo after his retirement press conference at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on Sept. 28, 2018. (Yonhap)

LG Twins’ pitcher Bong Jung-keun poses next to the team’s logo after his retirement press conference at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on Sept. 28, 2018. (Yonhap)

The 2009 WBC was a coming-out party for Bong, who endeared himself to South Korean fans by shutting down the bitter rival Japan for 5 1/3 innings in a 1-0 victory in the first round. Bong also famously held Ichiro Suzuki, one of Japan’s top hitters, to an 0-for-3 day at the plate. Including the inaugural WBC in 2006, Bong limited Ichiro, as he’s famously known, to just one hit in nine at-bats.

“I think that second WBC tournament helped get my name out there,” Bong recalled. “It changed my life.”

Bong plans to travel with the Twins for the remainder of this season and serve as a mentor and spiritual leader for a team fighting to stay alive in postseason contention.

He said the key for young LG pitchers was to have more confidence and trust in their arsenal.

“Young guys tend to get down on themselves after giving up hits or home runs, and it really shows on their faces,” Bong said. “They should realize they will have their share of opportunities to pitch better and win.”

 

 

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