When someone moves abroad to live, it can be a challenging experience. When someone moves abroad to not only live but also play professional baseball as their job, it can be a daunting and difficult transition for the player and their families. Han Lee, CEO of Global Sporting Integration, is trying to help ease this transition for Asian ball players in the United States. MyKBO would like to take the time to thank Han for taking the time to answer a few questions. For more information about GSI, please check out their website at www.globalsportingintegration.com. MyKBO: What is GSI?
GSI: Global Sporting Integration (GSI) is a recently launched consulting firm (not a player representation agency) providing on-field and off-field transition services to professional baseball players from Asia playing here in the major and minor leagues as well as to Americans playing in Asia. Unlike a sports agency, GSI seeks to contract with MLB and its clubs to ease the transition process for players.
MyKBO: Follow up: If you had to describe GSI in once sentence, what would it be?
GSI: Global Sporting Integration provides professional athletes with custom solutions that allow them to adapt, survive and thrive in a new environment
MyKBO: What can GSI offer to a team that will help the team and player be successful in MLB?
GSI: We have developed a six-pronged system that we believe will resolve any issues that could prevent an overseas athlete from competing at a high level. The areas of focus include:
The key to our services is customization. Every player is going to have different needs. For instance, a rookie might have more needs than a veteran player would. We seek to identify those differences and offer each athlete a custom tailored solution to ease the transition.
- o Pre-departure preparation
- o Language acquisition
- o Nutritional education and support
- o Cultural adaptation
- o Training transition assistance
- o Contact with a sports psychologist who can speak the player's native language
MyKBO: How could GSI help the Orioles and Yoon Suk-min with his transition to the USA and MLB?
GSI: At GSI, we would love the opportunity to sit down with Suk-min Yoon to discuss how we could create a custom-tailored program for him. In our plan, our first goal would be to identify ways to make him feel comfortable in his new environment as quickly as possible. We would offer English lessons focused on practical English as it relates to baseball and the media which would ease the communication barrier with his teammates and coaches. We also would look to provide him with detailed information about the city of Baltimore and the 29 ballparks he’ll be playing in. Some other areas we would work on would be ensuring he knows where he can find familiar foods, explaining the cultural differences between the US and Korea in detail, and also helping him adapt to the training system in the MLB.
MyKBO: How do you see the needs of Asian players in the MLB being different from those who come to the MLB from Latin America?
GSI: Latin American countries, such as Venezuela and the Dominican Republic to name a few, have internal baseball cultures and systems that are more similar to America than in Asia. Japanese pitchers, for example, view completing a game even if they’re at 120 pitches in the 7th as a matter of pride and honor. Asian players tend to focus on the fundamentals when training; in the MLB, training consists not only of fundamentals, but also weight training and calisthenics. The KBO and NPB do not have nearly as many power hitters like the MLB does (granted, I understand the differences in physical make up of players between Asia and the US). The baseballs used in NPB and KBO are different from the ones used in MLB, turf on the field is different, have different compositions for the pitcher’s mound...the list goes on. When a player from Latin America comes to the MLB, adapting to how baseball is played in the MLB is much less of a challenge than for Asian athletes. So, while the Latin American player may face challenges in food and the language, an equivalent Asian athlete has to overcome those challenges while making significant adjustments to how they play the game (both mentally and physically).
MyKBO: There have been several high-profile Asian MLB players recently who seem to be thriving in their environments (Shin-soo Choo, Hyun-jin Ryu, etc). What would you say to a manager or a league exec who contends that Asian players can successfully adapt to the US without your services?
GSI: Unfortunately, for each success story reported in the media, there are at least ten Asian players who wash out. The mental and emotional strain of adapting to a new culture and being so far away from your family and friends cannot be undersold. Shin-soo Choo and Hyun-jin Ryu have the strength, determination, and courage to persevere despite the challenges they face. However, the entire transition process must be made easier to give some more and more players the opportunity to show how much they have to offer without being encumbered by personal challenges as basic as finding a good place to eat. Our service lets teams evaluate players based on their ability to deliver for the club on the baseball field which, at the end of the day, benefits both the players and the teams.
MyKBO: In the past, there have been some Asian players that did
not have success on-field, do you think their off-field experiences
affected their performance?
GSI: Our goal is to remove 'off-field'
difficulties as a factor in a player's success or failure in the League.
It's not fair to generalize what may have led to past players' lack of
success in baseball as every player is unique (hence, our service is
custom-tailored to each athlete we serve). GSI offers teams and player
future solutions to ensure that athletes who cross the Pacific are able
to be judged on their playing abilities alone. In our research, we spoke
with players and professionals while reading up on the history of Asian
athletes in the MLB. One constant thread between the successful and
unsuccessful Asian players was that off-field issues such as, the
language barrier, differences in diet, differences in training styles,
and differences in culture had a personal impact on them, one which we
hope to alleviate.
MyKBO: Let’s talk about the reverse: Americans coming to play in Asia (for example, in the KBO or NPB). What challenges do they face and how does that impact Asian leagues?
GSI: Americans face many of the same challenges adapting to Asia as Asians do in the US. While English is a complicated language, many native English speakers balk at learning a new alphabet for Korean, let alone three for Japanese. At GSI, we had the privilege of working with Kevin Youkilis as he and his family prepared to move to Japan so he could play a season with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. We prepared a comprehensive package for him, including language resources, dietary information, contact information for American organizations in Japan, and things as basic as subway maps and directions to local restaurants. With the KBO removing its caps on foreign player salaries, we see more American players heading to Korea as a new market with great potential for us to expand our service offerings.
MyKBO: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and why?
GSI: Chan-Ho Park. I remember watching his games at 4 am as a kid. It wasn’t until after he retired that I found out about how difficult it was for him to sustain a 17 year career in MLB. He’s been with 9 teams I believe? He has seen it all, the highs and the lows. I’d love to get his insight on how to better assist Asian players in the league.
MyKBO: When living in Korea, did you watch a lot of KBO and attend games? Who's your favorite KBO team?
GSI: I was raised in Cheong-Ju, where the Hanhwa Eagles have a stadium. I know they mostly play their games in Daejeon now (if not all?). Growing up I went to a few Hanhwa games and watched a ton on TV. Chang-yong Lim and Jong-bum Lee were my two favorite players. I guess that means I was once a Haitai Tigers fan. I played a lot of backyard baseball growing up, and tried to imitate these two players.
MyKBO: Favorite Food:
GSI: Anything seafood
Favorite Athlete/Favorite Teams:
GSI: I don’t root for any particular professional team. My job requires me to become a fan of all 30 teams in MLB. But as a MSU graduate, I am a diehard Michigan State fan. GO GREEN!
MyKBO: Role Model:
GSI: Chan-Ho Park.
MyKBO: Complete the sentence: In ten years, I will be…
GSI: In 10 years, I will be leading a multinational consulting firm, helping athletes around the globe in their transition into foreign countries, while raising cultural awareness through sports. Sports is a strong way to help bring different countries and cultures together and we hope to help facilitate that in the years to come.
Kelvin Jiménez pitched for the Doosan Bears in 2010, where he went 14-5 with a 3.32 ERA. He then headed to Japan with the Rakuten Golden Eagles for the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Jiménez, who did not play during the 2013 season, is healthy again and ready to pitch. MyKBO would like to thank him for taking the time to answer a few questions.
MyKBO: What are some of your favorites memories during your time in the KBO?
KJ: The Doosan Bears fans & my teammates.
MyKBO: What are some of the differences on and off the field that you saw between the KBO and NPB?
KG: I think the fields in Japan are a little bit nicer 'cause they have domes. But for the most part both leagues are very similar.
MyKBO: What have you been up to this past season and how are you feeling these days?
KJ: This past season I have been enjoying my family and getting ready for this upcoming baseball season. I begin to pitch for Estrellas in the Dominican Winter League this week.
MyKBO: Would you like to return to the KBO in the near future?
KJ: I would LOVE to return to the KBO 'cause I have a lot of good memories there, especially with the Doosan Bears organization.
MyKBO: Is there anything you would like to say to your fans in Korea?
KJ: The Doosan Bears fans are the best! I hope to see them soon. Hopefully, in 2014.
Brandon Knight has played baseball across the world in such cities as New York, Fukuoka, Daegu, and Seoul. Having played for the Samsung Lions and currently for the Nexen Heroes, Knight is a KBO veteran who has won a bronze medal representing the United States at the 2008 Summer Olympics, named a KBO All-Star this season, and is currently helping Nexen make a push for the playoffs.
Brandon was kind enough to participate in an interview via e-mail with MyKBO. MyKBO would like to thank Brandon for taking the time to answer the following questions.
MyKBO: Congratulations on being named an All-Star this year. What was your first KBO All-Star experience like?
BK: Thanks. It was fun to be around the other players. It is a nice experience to be around guys that you typically are competing against, in a more relaxed and fun atmosphere. You get a chance to see their personalities away from the stresses of trying to win a baseball game.
MyKBO: What made you decide to continue your career in Asia? What knowledge did you have about the KBO and Korean baseball?
BK: Playing here was the best opportunity to provide for my family. Being AAA, you never know when you might get released for being too old or in the wrong position. When you play in Asia, if you are conducting yourself with class and playing well, you will have a job. That is comforting for someone who has been playing as long as I have.
I didn't have much knowledge of Korean baseball until the Beijing Olympics. I was familiar with Park Chan-ho and Kim Byung-hyun but that was about it before then.
MyKBO: What are some of the on and off-field similarities that you have seen or experienced between MLB, NPB, and KBO? What are some of the differences?
BK: Well baseball is baseball wherever you go. 9 innings, 3 outs, etc. The differences are in the details. The best available players in the world from all nationalities play in the MLB. There is so much depth of talent there and also a large pool of talent to pick from. In Japan and Korea, you are dealing with a smaller pool of guys so the overall talent isn't there. The glaring on-the-field differences that I've seen here are the lack of quality overall defense and lack of pitching depth. Way too many mistakes are made on the defense, which proves very costly over the course of a season. But as we've seen from the WBC and the Olympics, the best Japanese and Koreans can compete and beat the best from any other nation. I feel very lucky to share the field with these guys.
MyKBO: You’ve played in the KBO since 2009, what on-field and off-field changes have you noticed in KBO since you arrived in Korea?
BK: I haven't really noticed much on-the-field differences. But the biggest thing off-field is definitely fan enthusiasm. It is very obvious that baseball is gaining in popularity every year. It's most noticeable in stadiums like Mokdong and Daejeon. There was always good attendance in Busan and Seoul, but now fans are really getting behind the other teams in the league. When I was with Samsung and even last year with the Heroes when we were at Mokdong, there were usually more visiting fans than ours. That is not the case now. Attendance has been great and our fans are really pulling for us.
MyKBO: Who is one of the toughest KBO batters for you to face?
BK: It really varies from year to year but this season it is probably Kim Tae-kyun. He is a very selective hitter with power and makes adjustments really well. You can't just throw him the same pitch and expect to get him out.
MyKBO: Have you changed as a pitcher since you’ve played in Asia?
BK: Absolutely. When I first got here I was going to come after you with a four seam fastball and slider. More of a power style pitcher. Last year I developed a sinker and it has really changed the way I approach pitching. I throw that pitch 75 to 80% of the time. I get a lot of ground balls and quick outs now. It has helped to keep my pitch counts down and allowed me to pitch deeper in games. I don't get many strikeouts now but that is fine with me.
MyKBO: In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, you had the honor of playing for Team USA. What was your Olympic experience like? Did you attend any of the ceremonies or attend any other events while you were there? Do you think baseball should be placed back into the Summer Games? Also, have you watched any of this year’s Summer Olympics?
BK: The Olympics was pretty unbelievable. It was such an unexpected honor for me. I never thought I would have the chance to be on the team at my age. The opening ceremonies were incredible...and incredibly hot! Not sure if I've sweat so much in my life. The Chinese really did a great job with the ceremonies. It was so well thought out and well choreographed. The highlight was when the guy was running around the top of the 'Bird's Nest'. So unexpected and exciting. Something I'll take with me for the rest of my life.
I absolutely think baseball should be back in the games. Baseball is really gaining popularity globally and I think baseball is a very good display of both mental and physical ability.
I haven't really watched much this year. They are on late and I don't get much time to watch TV. The kids are usually watching Super Why or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.
MyKBO: This season, Nexen is in a race for the playoffs. What are some of the key differences between this year’s team and last year’s?
BK: Maturity is a big key for this team. Kang Jung-ho and Park Byung-ho have really grown up and are 2 of the best players in the league. Andy Van Hekken has been really strong for us and is on his way to a 10 win season. I like the overall confidence that this team has as opposed to last year. This team believes.
MyKBO: What’s your opinion on the designated hitter rule? In the future, would you like to see the KBO allow pitchers to bat?
BK: As a pitcher, the more times I don't have to face an extra hitter the better. I prefer National League style baseball. There is a little more strategy involved but the DH is not going away. People want to see hitting and understand that. The strength of the KBO is the hitting so I really doubt they would put the bat in the hands of a pitcher.
MyKBO: Next season, there will be 9 teams in the KBO. Do you think KBO can handle a 10th team? Would you like to see a 10th KBO team?
BK: I definitely think the KBO can handle another team and I think the sooner the better. Having 9 teams is going to be a nightmare next year.
MyKBO: What memories do you have of your MLB debut? How nervous were you when you took the mound?
BK: It was very exciting. I remember jogging to the mound at a sold out Yankee Stadium. I made sure to take it all in. I didn't keep my head down and try to block it out, I wanted to absorb the whole experience. As I was throwing my warm up pitches the crowd started cheering really loud. I turned and looked at the scoreboard and it said I was making my debut. That was really cool. I struck out the first guy I faced but then proceeded to give up back to back home runs. Humbling.
MyKBO: If you could pitch to any batter in baseball history, who would choose and why?
BK: Brady Anderson...Wouldn't throw him the change up this time. Haha. Seriously, there have been so many great hitters to play this game. Not sure I could choose one. Ruth, Mays, DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Barry Bonds. What an incredible challenge it must have been to face any of those guys.
MyKBO: What are some of your favorite places to visit and go to in Korea?
BK: To be quite honest, I haven't really gone anywhere. Took the kids to Lotte World last year which was fun but very difficult. Trying to corral 3 boys in that place is a challenge. I'm a history buff so I would like to visit War Memorial Museum.
MyKBO: If you weren’t playing baseball as a profession, what do you think you would be doing right now?
BK: I'd be a firefighter, no question about it. I considered doing it after I was done playing but it's kind of late in the game to be starting that kind of career. Plus, my wife is nervous enough when I pitch. Imagine how she would feel if I was risking my life everyday.
MyKBO: What sports did you play as a kid? Did you always want to be a pitcher?
BK: The only organized sport I played was baseball. I played all the other sports with the neighborhood kids but stuck to baseball. Wanted to play football in high school but my dad talked me out of it. As far as pitching goes...I always pitched, but I never wanted to make it a career. I wanted to hit and play defense. That was all I ever practiced. I love being on the mound when it is my day to pitch but I really wanted to play everyday. When I was drafted by the Rangers and they decided they wanted me to pitch I was very disappointed.
MyKBO: Growing up, who were some of your favorite athletes?
BK: Steve Sax, Magic Johnson, Don Mattingly, Will Clark, and Roger Craig. I liked guys who had reputations as hard workers and great competitors.
MyKBO: Other than Mokdong, what’s your favorite KBO stadium to play in and why?
BK: I like playing in Busan. Great energy from the fans, very good hitting team, great attendance and a grass field.
MyKBO: Have to ask the always infamous question…what’s your favorite Korean food?
BK: Yeol tan bulgogi (열탄불고기), doenjang jjigae (된장 찌개). I like good homemade kimchi especially if it is good and salty.
MyKBO: Favorite movie? Favorite TV show? Favorite music?
BK: Tombstone is my favorite movie. Favorite show is CSI, but my wife and I are really getting in to Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and The Walking Dead. I like all kinds of music but favorite is Pearl Jam, Metallica, and Pink Floyd.
MyKBO: What are some of your hobbies that you like to do in your free time?
BK: Golf, but with kids I don't get a chance to play very often.
MyKBO: Best and worst part about being a professional athlete in a foreign country?
BK: The best part about playing overseas is that you are brought here to be one of the top players. You get a chance to showcase your skills and be someone a team can really rely on. But on the other side of that coin is the pressure to succeed and constant fear of being sent home. In most cases you either produce or you're gone and I can accept that.
MyKBO: Any final words to your fans in Korea?
BK: The fans have been so good to me. I'm not a really outgoing personality so you won't really see any fist pumping or yelling. I'm certainly not much of an entertainer but the fans seem to accept me for who I am which is awesome! I really like to go out there and pitch well and help the team win and show good effort. When I have a good inning and they chant my name it really makes me feel good. I might not act like I hear it but I do, and I'm smiling from ear to ear inside.
Nexen’s Cory Aldridge is one of the few foreign players in the KBO who is
not listed on the roster as a pitcher. Despite spending most of his time in the outfield, Aldridge does have some professional
experience as a pitcher. Continue reading
MyKBO.net’s interview with Cory Aldridge
to find out more about his outing as a relief pitcher, life in Korea, and a variety of other topics. MyKBO would like to thank Cory for taking the
time to answer these questions. He can
be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aldridge32.
MyKBO: What made you decide to continue your career in Korea and the KBO?
CA: I have wanted to play out of the country for a few years now. In the past, I dealt with so many injuries that made it tough to stay on the field. My agent was very influential with my going. He said I would love it, and my personality would be great for this country. My agent has had so many guys play in Japan and Korea and really pushed it on me; I finally said yes.
MyKBO: Before arriving in Florida at Nexen’s Spring Training, what did you know about the KBO and Korean baseball? Did you talk to anyone that had played in Korea before?
CA: I knew guys that had played in Korea but not much about the actual KBO. I only knew things to watch out for. Nobody said much really. There were players that gave me advice, but it’s tough to prepare for certain things I have been through.
MyKBO: What are some of the differences (on-field and off-field) that you have seen between Korean baseball and baseball in the States?
CA: Wow that's a long answer; I'll give a few.
- Major League Baseball, and even minor leagues, are a lot more professional. The players - young, old, big, and small are NOT treated like professional players here. Players will tell you this is almost a high school and college environment with the practice structure and facilities/ stadiums. The whole “older brother/younger brother” thing here irritates me. In MLB, players are treated pretty equal. How can you be a close team treating younger players like peons because they are younger than you?
- Obviously, they rain out games so quickly here; in the MLB they try to play every game, if for no other reason than to get the concessions. Many times this season, we could have played if they would have just waited before calling the game; things like that never happen in the States.
- Facilities here aren't great; the smoking room is probably the most respected place in the stadium; other teams’ players are always in the locker room - in the States you would never see that; they don't use shower shoes here and angrily brush teeth all the time.
- In MLB, uniforms and accessories match, but here there are many random colors with pink arm guards and wristbands.
- Defense here is not what I expected when I first came here. It can really be lacking in many important areas.
- Practicing here seems to be way too important, to the point where I think players are mentally tired for games. I think practicing this way and in the minor leagues is almost cruel. The players are drilled and it’s almost as if they’re treated like a military soldiers.
- I think it’s funny when guys celebrate a 1st inning home run here.
- There is so much coaching going on in the game here and it’s really tough to clear your mind and trust yourself with a coach in your ear talking all the time.
- The fans here really support there teams and watch the game with such passion. In the States you might watch a game and nobody is paying attention. I think it’s funny that most people here are fans of a player because he is attractive or has an image not because he is good.
- Last difference is that players here don't have the off-the-field closeness as in the States. If your team is not winning in the States, you have nights were team gets together and have a good time to become close. It helps with a positive attitude during hard times.
- Off the field has been good, just weird how touchy men are. Public drunkenness is a lot more accepted here. I always see men walking in the middle of the roads when I’m walking home after a game.
- People are generally more helpful here especially at restaurants. The whole ‘calling a waiter or waitress’ is funny because, in the States they come to you. Adding to or changing a meal order is unheard of here. I am amazed at how many restaurants are open so late for the drinkers, it’s great!
- Transportation here is so cheap, I love it! I’m very grateful about how safe the streets are. Not much crime at all, it’s really refreshing.
- Fashion here is something I notice a lot. Labels are very important and clothes are very expensive. I’m so amazed at how many people here worry about there appearance and constantly fixing themselves in the mirror.
- Also the shyness of women or lack of confidence is crazy. So many women taking picture hiding there faces etc. These women are very beautiful, but don't believe it at all.
MyKBO: What has been the most difficult part about living and playing baseball in Korea? What has been the best part?
CA: The most difficult is that everyone talks about how foreigners need to adjust to the culture and “Korean style,” but they don't accept anything different. People and players ask me things like "Why are you doing that? Eating it like that? Why are you not doing this? We eat this; we do this, etc." I’m not Korean and I’m not trying to be Korean. I’m just being me. I did not come here to change my ways or conform to something else. I generally get looked at weirdly for talking to a woman on and off the field because, men/players think that I'm always trying to flirt with them. I was raised to treat women equal or even better than men. Here, it is a joy to talk to a woman, because they seem to have a lot to talk about. I think that compared to the United States, they are socially more advanced than most men here. I get tired of seeing men all day and talking about the same thing all day with men. I love my teammates and male friends, but I definitely enjoy a women’s company more. Where I’m from, hanging with men all the time is not cool.
Another funny thing is being accused of drinking the “Korean way”. So many people want to think because I have a drink at night that I sit around being drunk or drinking all night just because some people here do it. It’s not my style. I honesty respect and accept the culture and the differences, but I don't think it’s reciprocated by many. I try my best not to offend someone and be as private as I can. When I say I don't like something or ask people not to do something to me, I hear, "Hey it’s Korean style."
I found it weird how in Spring, everyone wanted to take Knight and me out to eat and make us feel comfortable, but I never see anyone before or after games now that we’re in Korea. I really would love to actually have more real friends on my team or in general than I do, but its different here. Some men really don't reciprocate friendly gestures. I really shouldn't be the one bringing others tobacco, shoes, gloves, food, and asking to go out since this is not my home. I am very aware that I am a guest here and want to be respectful of that.
There are also coaches that want you to do things their way and expect the same result as you would your own way, and then they get mad if you don't want their advice. It’s really tough to play that way, to do well, and to feel comfortable when you’re being asked to do something completely different than what got you here. Many people, coaches, reporters, or baseball people always have an opinion on what you should be or shouldn’t be doing, especially if it’s not “the Korean way.” Some people love saying, "You should sleep, don't drink after game, maybe you like (fill in the blank) too much", or my favorite "Korean players do this, so you should too.” Trying to be Korean or trying to please others is a good reason I hit .200 the first part of the season. By June and July, I found peace in being me rather than trying to be someone or something I’m not.
Probably the most difficult is if you have a bad game or week, many players or office people don't talk to you. Have a good game, then everyone wants to be your friend. Also, many people group foreigners in the same category, like we are all the same - bad and good.
The best part has been learning different culture and the fans and food. I really love the food and the availability. I also love the portions and how people love to see you eat. Eating is definitely something I love to do.
The fans have been unbelievable in making me feel comfortable and staying positive. This has been the worst year I can think of from injury, to swing problems, rain, etc., but I have really had fun. I really enjoy Korea, most of the people, and just going to the stadium everyday. Really my experience has been great and I have loved 90% of my time here. I could see myself living here and being very happy. I have a serious goal and desire to play a long time here; I pray that can happen. There is a lot of love here that is given to me and I enjoy giving it back. This country is so pure in itself and makes me very happy when I wake up knowing I really don't have many worries except trying to be me. I have found so much to do and always feel very comfortable even if I can’t speak the language very well. This might sound funny but I wish I could make a crossover when I retire and become an actor/TV personality, especially here in Korea. I like the entertainment aspect of Korea and have thought for years about my desire to make that crossover. Korea could be a great place for that!
MyKBO: Describe the interaction you have with the team during a game and at practice. Do you have any problems with communication, translations, etc?
CA: I generally have great conversations with about 5 guys. I really look forward to those 5 everyday. There is not much problem at all with communication. The language of men is very universal. Many players come and ask me many questions everyday about baseball - or better - just life stuff. I love to sit, laugh, and talk with the guys. Culturally, people see you talking and think you are friends so easily. That’s not how it is where I'm from. There are friends and teammates. We talk a lot and joke but it would just be better if it was off the field as well. I really don't know anything about most of these guys. I try. Going out to eat can be tough but I get by...I point a lot.
MyKBO: How would you compare the competition level in the KBO to the minor leagues and Major League Baseball?
CA: That is a tough question. It ranges from AA to the Major Leagues. Defense is very lower-level, even with just routine stuff. Hitting is AAA/Major leagues. These guys can hit. I can say pitching is AA to big leagues. Guys that are good are good; some guys just don't have confidence to be good yet. The biggest problem is that most guys could be so much better with some confidence, or with someone lifting them up to give them confidence.
MyKBO: Who are some of the toughest pitchers that you have faced in the KBO? In the States?
CA: Wow tough question! I hate facing #19 (Jung Hyun-wook) from Samsung because he has four good pitches. The same with Kia's ace, but I actually don't mind facing him. In the US, the nastiest pitcher - to me - that I can think of is Brandon League, and that was in spring training. Or Neftali Feliz. I think my record against Feliz is good, but he throws 102...c’mon!!
The problem in Korea is most guys don't pitch to contact. The ones that do usually are successful and can make that transition to the States.
MyKBO: Are there any players currently in the KBO that you think would be able to make the transition to playing in the States (MLB/minors)?
CA: The only way to answer that is ‘yes.’ The problem here is coaching and confidence. There are so many players that are, and can be, great players. There are players that, if they had States’ coaching, could be outstanding. Most players’ confidence is so bad they really never know or see how good they can be, i.e. #53 on our team (Ko Jong-wook). All I can say is yes because there is potential in some players. Even better to send players to the States and then bring them back and see how good they can be after they come back.
They could open up a small talent pool by setting guidelines for American Koreans. There aren’t many, but I really feel it could make the KBO stronger. I find it odd that some Koreans in the States can play in the WBC, but not here in the KBO, i.e. my friend Steven Yoo who is trying to play here. There are many guys that can go to the States, but there are ways to make KBO stronger with Korean players.
MyKBO: Other than Mokdong Stadium, what is your favorite stadium to play in? Why?
CA: Jamsil or Busan. The energy in those stadiums is amazing. Those fans and cheerleaders are non-stop. The best is that they support the team when they are losing or winning. That’s a true fan.
MyKBO: AAA in the USA or the KBO? How is the KBO better/worse (travel, hotels, etc) than being in the minors?
CA: Travel here is better but traffic is terrible. I’m not a fan of the hotels here because they don't have wireless and bars (LOL). I really don't have a problem with either. Trips here are cool because they aren't long. AAA can be terrible because of the early, early plane rides and layovers. I’ll take Korean travel any day but, not the traffic!
MyKBO: In 2008, you played in the Atlantic League, which is an independent league. What was your time like playing in that league?
CA: The Atlantic League was great. I had so much fun and, regained my love for playing again. I dealt with so many problems and had a bitter taste in my mouth with baseball. It was great because there was no front office to mess with your head and you can do your own thing there. All of the players there were really close and had a great time. It’s always great to relax have fun and do your own thing and trust yourself as a player. It gets bad when people want you to do what they want you to do, rather than what you’re comfortable with. How can you play when you can’t be yourself? That league was very professional and everyone treated you that way. They actually had better fan support than most minor league teams. The competition was great. There were so many MLB players and guys coming back from Japan.
MyKBO: During that 2008 season, it shows that you took the mound for an inning and pitched. Was that your first time pitching in a game? What was it like? Would you like the opportunity to pitch again?
CA: I talk about pitching here all the time. They have seen my cutter. It was a great experience but scary seeing these big guys swinging as hard as they can at what I threw. I flinched every time I threw a pitch. And I also had a sore back when I was finished. I was throwing a cutter I learned from Greg Maddux and it worked like a charm... It was 2 innings but trust me, my back remembers. I’ve asked the pitching coach to let me pitch again. I would love to do it. I think my cutter is better than ever...
MyKBO: What sports did you play as a child? Was baseball always your favorite sport to play?
CA: I was a soccer player growing up in a family of football players. My dad played for the San Francisco 49ers, so football was in my blood. I played soccer, basketball, baseball, and football. I think I was a very good soccer and football player. I also love golf now and really wish I had learned it at a young age. Baseball was probably my favorite because my friends and I played it all the time with home run derby etc.
MyKBO: Who were some of the athletes (any specific baseball players) that you followed and looked up to while growing up?
CA: My favorite players or athletes were Fred McGriff and Barry Sanders. They always acted like they have been there before. They were amazing players that never tried to draw attention to themselves; it just happened. Amazingly nice guys. A true hero for me is a guy who cares for others, helps his players get better, plays hard when things are good and bad, and does not look for rewards; just does his job. It is very hard to find that, but it’s important to me. Those two guys played the game the right way. They respected their sports.
MyKBO: What are some of the most memorable moments from your playing career so far?
CA: My most memorable was being in the MLB during September 11th and playing in the first game after that happened. Also, my first major league hit after four surgeries, retirement, disappointment, doubt and nine years removed - I actually cried. There were so many emotions that had been accumulating for 31 years. Lots of dreams and desires. I’ve always had talent and ability, but injuries have consistently hindered my career. Being a respected player is good, but accomplishing a goal I’ve had since I was a kid is the blessing of blessings. Thank GOD!
MyKBO: What are some of your favorite Korean foods that you have discovered during your time in Korea?
CA: I like it all except kimchi. The spicier the better. Oddly enough, I like the octopus and squid. I do not like the cold noodles or anything else cold. I think the rice cakes and rice desserts are funny, but not what I like to eat. I pretty much enjoy it all; I can’t single anything out.
MyKBO: You seem to love food, what’s your all-time favorite meal?
CA: Honestly chicken fried steak and gravy with mashed potatoes and gravy and gravy and gravy…. Or more special would be anything my grandmother cooks God bless her…Easily the best cook I’ve ever seen - and I’ve been everywhere.
MyKBO: If you weren’t a baseball player, what do you think you would be doing now? After your playing career, what would you like to do?
CA: I would be working with my step-dad and his construction company. I have learned so much about building homes and commercial buildings. That’s what I do in the off-season. When I retire, I may do that or coach…. Again my dream is to kind of make that crossover to TV or something. Maybe someone here could use my services. My Korean is getting better. I can have two residences USA and Korea. That’s a question I ask myself all the time. Haven't narrowed it down.
MyKBO: What do you like to do in your free-time?
CA: When I’m home I like to golf, play guitar when I’m free, hunt, travel and see friends… I’m pretty simple... Most of my off-season is spent training and shooting guns, eating, and having a good time. I really enjoy hanging out with my step-dad learning his business. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that he and my mom are actually pretty fun. I hope I can actually hang out with my brother Nathan more, but he works all the time. Most importantly, I look forward to the time I can spend with my three children. Being with and around them in the off-season is crucial, given the amount of time I spend away from them during the season.
MyKBO: What would be more likely to happen in a game: You striking out the side or your teammate Brandon Knight hitting a home run?
CA: Me striking out the side. Brandon has a good swing, but he is rusty. I think I can trick some guys (LOL). Really it’s 50/50 because I’m sure he won’t have anyone in his ear telling him what to do. He could easily get into one. I trust his skills.
MyKBO: What are some of your favorite movies, TV shows, and musicians?
CA: My favorite TV shows: Married with Children, Martin, Psych, Get Smart.
Movies: The Last Dragon, Juice, War Games, Never Ending Story.
My favorite musician is a guitarist named Buckethead. His creativity is amazing and skills are outstanding. He is kind of “out there” mentally, but most of the great ones are. I really love all music types and I actually used to be a D.J. That used to be kind of a dream in my younger days.
MyKBO: You recently started using Twitter, have you always been involved with your fans via social networking?
CA: Honestly I’m a private person. I don't like electronic friends or people that are not tangible friends… Facebook, MySpace etc. But here is different, and I’m fascinated with the culture comparison and the difference in thinking here. I actually see these people and talk to them. It is really refreshing too to know that the fans want me to be comfortable. Most don't really know me but are passionate… I hope they learn that I’m more than a baseball player and baseball is not my life. Twitter has been fun. I really enjoy talking to you also. Good laughs...
MyKBO: Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans?
CA: You guys are amazing! I hope and pray that I’m in Korea again and I want to make you guys as happy as you make me… Keep Fighting, and, as always, Trust Yourself!
The Lotte Giants are known to have some of
the most passionate fans in Korea. Since the 2010 season, these loyal and loud
Giants fans have cheered on pitcher Ryan Sadowski.
was kind enough to participate in an interview via e-mail with MyKBO. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/incugator. MyKBO.net would like to thank Ryan for taking
time out of his schedule to answer these questions.
MyKBO: What made you decide to continue your career in Korea and the KBO?
RS: After the 2009 season, I got a phone call from Jerry Royster. He is friends with my pitching coach in San Francisco, Dave Righetti. He recommended that I go pitch for Jerry. Playing for Jerry didn’t take much convincing.
MyKBO: Before arriving at Lotte, what did you know about the KBO and Korean baseball?
RS: I knew about the ’08 Olympic team because my friend Nate Schierholtz played for Team USA. I remember watching him hit a homer in the game and the US team losing to Korea.
MyKBO: What are some of the differences (on-field and off-field) that you have seen between Korean baseball and baseball in the States?
RS: On the field, the game is exactly the same, but the rules are different. I think of baseball in Korea as yah-goo (야구). I wish I could take a look at a rule book to learn the differences, but I don’t think my Korean skills are good enough to really interpret the rules.
Off the field, Korea is a social culture that you would find to be a bit different than the US. I found it fairly easy to adjust, but I can imagine other foreigners find it quite difficult. I have made some great friends here in Korea and I have a lot of fun.
MyKBO: What has been the most difficult part about living and playing baseball in Korea? What has been the best part?
RS: One thing that you realize really quickly is that people miss people. You miss your friends and family. The best part is meeting new people and making new friends. I have some great teammates and have some memories that I’ll never forget.
MyKBO: How would you compare the competition level in the KBO to the minor leagues and Major League Baseball?
RS: It’s so different it’s hard to compare. You’ll hear people compare it from AA to AAAA. There are plenty of players here that have the skill set to play in the big leagues, but they have been taught a different style of the game. Like I said, these guys play yah-goo (야구.) Just like the language, things get lost in baseball translation.
MyKBO: Who are some of the toughest outs for you in the KBO?
RS: I think Samsung’s 조영훈 Young-Hoon Jo is hitting about .600 off of me. That must be the highest BAA of anybody in the whole league.
MyKBO: Are there any players currently in the KBO that you think would be able to make the transition to playing in the States (MLB/minors)?
RS: It’s hard to say because of the style, but there are a bunch of guys that have the skills. I’ll list a few guys that really stand out in terms of skills. Jung-Ho Kang 강정호, Hyun-Jin Ryu 류현진, Hyun-Soo Kim 김현수, Jung Choi 최정, Suk-Min Yoon 윤석민. There are a few guys on Lotte that definitely have to skills, too. It’s just hard to know how they will adjust. It’s the same reason why Phil Dumatrait struggles in the KBO and then pitches in the big leagues the next season.
MyKBO: If you were commissioner of the KBO for a day, what are some changes you would make to the league and rules?
RS: I couldn’t do anything in a day. The HBP rule needs to be changed. If it isn’t, the league is going to have a day of mourning for a player that was killed on the field. I’d also like to see the KBO team up with the NPB and MLB to help international marketing and interest. That would take the league becoming much more transparent. I really don’t think that is very realistic.
MyKBO: What are some of the differences you have seen between Royster and Yang? Similarities?
RS: They are both really nice guys off the field. Most people knew that about Jerry, but I don’t think they know that about Yang.
Jerry has 40 years of MLB experience. It’s a style I grew up watching and playing. Jerry would stick with his best 9 guys and play the long run.
Yang has Korea baseball experience. Yang looks for the hot guys and goes with them. He’ll make a lot more in-game changes.
We really will only know which style is more successful in Korea after a few years.
MyKBO: Since arriving in Korea, have you changed the way you pitch, approach the game, play etc?
RS: I’ve had to adjust to the strike zone and the style of hitters. I still try to go out there and have as much fun as possible. It was a bit more difficult early in the season when I was pitching hurt.
MyKBO: How would you describe the fans of Lotte and the atmosphere at Sajik?
MyKBO: Other than Sajik, what’s your favorite stadium to play at in the KBO? Why?
RS: I like playing in Mokdong 목동. It is like playing a home game. Our fans are pretty crazy everywhere.
MyKBO: Do you hang out with your teammates off-the-field and away from the stadium?
RS: Yeah, my teammates know about my favorite Korean restaurants and coffee shops. Some of us will go out for a drink sometimes, too.
MyKBO: How would your rate your Korean language skills? How have you learned Korean (via friends, textbook etc)? Do you have any problems with communication, translations etc on the field and off it?
RS: I had no idea what I was getting myself into when it came to the language. I wanted to learn how to be polite and independent. I figured it would be learning about 50-100 words. After about 2 weeks of a beginner Korean language book, I had learned about 100 words and I realized that if I was going learn Korean I would have to jump in head first. My speaking skills are brutal because I’ve never had a teacher. My listening reading and writing skills are at about a Kindergarten level. I have no shame in making mistakes and failing.
MyKBO: With all the rainouts this season, how would you like to see the KBO handle the makeup games? Are you a fan of doubleheaders?
RS: There is really nothing that can be done. I grew up in Florida where rain delays are terrible for players and fans. In Korea, the games are called early to help the players and fans. I have thought of the idea of playing on Monday if you have a weekend rainout, but that would cost the league gates which translates into money. Double-headers would be a headache, too. The only solution is to make it so that it doesn’t rain so much. If you can make that happen, you are a better man than me.
MyKBO: What’s your favorite Korean food? What’s your favorite Western restaurant to eat at in Korea?
RS: Having a favorite Korean food is like having a favorite K-pop girl band. There are so many to choose from. If I had to go with one it would be Bong-Joo Jjim-Dalk 봉추찜닭.
Western Restaurant – California Pizza Kitchen near City Hall in Seoul.
MyKBO: Over the past year and a half, have you and your wife been able to do any sightseeing in Korea? If so, what have been some of your highlights?
RS: Yong-Goong Sah 용궁사 Temple is one of the best views in all of Korea. The Seh-Jong 세중 and Soong-shin Lee 이숭신 memorials were really interesting, too.
MyKBO: If you had not become a professional baseball player, what would you be doing?
RS: Honestly, I’d probably be helping people or businesses who have budget issues in the U.S. right now. There are plenty of those. It’s not terribly exciting stuff.
MyKBO: Growing up, who were some of your favorite baseball players?
RS: I was a big Nolan Ryan fan. I would try to convince myself that I was somehow related to him since his last name was my first name. I was a big fan of the Sadowski brothers Ed, Bob, and Ted who played back in the ‘60’s. I also tried to convince myself that I was related to them because we share the same last name, but I’m not related to them either.
MyKBO: What do you like to do in your free time?
RS: I like taking my video camera around Korea and make Youtube videos. I thought I was a great fusion to educate Americans about Korean Culture and Koreans about American Culture.
MyKBO: PC or Mac?
MyKBO: Favorite movie?
RS: Comedy – The Big Lebowski; Drama – Shawshank Redemption
MyKBO: Favorite music/artist?
RS: This is like asking somebody what their favorite Korean food is. There are so many to choose from. My favorite band is Incubus. I like listening to a bit of everything.
MyKBO: Finally, is there anything you would like to say to your fans around the KBO?
RS: I just want the fans to know that they are the most important part of the KBO. Without them, the KBO doesn’t exist and I really appreciate their support.
Finally, a question for Mrs. Sadowski:
MyKBO: Best and worst part about being the wife of a professional baseball player?
RS: She thinks that the best part and the worst part are nearly the same.
Best – Getting to Travel
Worst – Having to travel
In 2002, sports fans around Korea cheered
for their soccer team as it made a magical run in the World Cup. That year was also the last time LG Twins
fans were able to cheer their team on in the KBO playoffs. This season, the Twins and their fans are
hoping the team can end their playoff drought.
Helping out in the Twins push to end the drought is starting pitcher Ben Jukich.
Jukich and his wife Kathryn were kind of enough to participate in
interview via email with MyKBO.net. Both
Ben and Kathryn are on Twitter and can be found at http://twitter.com/BennyJ1982 and http://twitter.com/kriley1226. MyKBO.net would like to again thank the Jukich family for the interview and congratulate them on the upcoming birth of their child.
MyKBO: What made you decide
to continue your career in Korea
and the KBO?
BJ: It was an opportunity to broaden my horizon. I have a few friends that
have played over here before and they said it was a lot of fun and a great
MyKBO: Before arriving in Seoul, what did you know
about the KBO and Korean
baseball? Jon Adkins was a teammate of yours in Louisville, did he give
you any advice or tips about Korea
and the KBO?
BJ: I didn't really
know much about Korean baseball, just that Jon had played over here. He didn't
say much about it, but did get me in touch with the scout that signed me for
the LG Twins. I knew baseball was played overseas, but I wasn't sure of the
quality, so I was a bit skeptical at first.
MyKBO: What has been the
most difficult part in adjusting to baseball in Korea and the KBO?
BJ: It's definitely
been a challenge adjusting to the style of umpping and all the rule
changes. For example: I am left handed and have a pretty good move
to first but it's a balk here. In the States, 10 times out of 10 it wouldn't be
called a balk. That has been a little frustrating at times, but I understand
that I need to adapt to their style. It's not in my control what they call and
it's been a good teaching experience--I'm learning to control my frustrations
on the mound! Haha.
MyKBO: How are you adjusting
to some of the different rules of the KBO (ex: balk calls, tie games etc)?
BJ: It's definitely
been a challenge! But I'm doing my best to adjust to each umpire, as I've come
to learn all of them are very different. I've been called for a balk three
times this year which has definitely been frustrating when I have always done
the same thing in the states and never got called for it. Now, I'm not really
trying to pick anyone off anymore. I really just try to keep them close
MyKBO: What are some of the
differences (on-field and off-field) that you have noticed between Korean
baseball and baseball in the States?
BJ: On the field there
really isn't much of a difference. Pitching is still pitching, hitting is
still hitting, and defense is still defense. But I will say, off the
field, these guys work hard year round. I was all ready practicing with the
team in Florida
in October. I really didn't have an off season this year. I flew home for a
couple days from Venezuela
and then down to Florida
for a month. But I can tell the hard work this team has put in, is really
MyKBO: How has it been
fitting in with your new team and teammates? Have you had any problems with
communication, translations etc?
BJ: I knew being in a
different country that communication would be a struggle. I think because I
expected that, I wasn't surprised with the communication barrier. Plus I really
do have great teammates who made me feel welcome from the start. My
translator also does a great job making sure that Liz and I know what's going
on. Over the past few months, just being in Korea, and playing with these guys,
I've definitely learned some phrases, and some of them know a few in English as
well, so it's fun when we all joke around with each other. Truthfully, though I
don't always understand what they're saying and vice-versa, this is definitely
some of the most fun I've ever had playing baseball.
MyKBO: Being the only 2
foreign players on the team, do you and Radhames Liz hang out together on the
field and off it?
BJ: Not really too much. We grab an occasional beer
together and talk about baseball, but I'm reserved off the field. I don't
really go out too much and I like to spend time with my wife. Even when she's in the states we Skype all
the time. And now with a baby coming in a month, we're getting prepared for
that. I can't wait to meet our son. She's bringing him out here after he is
MyKBO: How would you compare
the competition level in the KBO to the minor leagues in the States?
BJ: I have to say, I
underestimated the level of play here. I am really enjoying the level of
competition; it's forced me to step up my game and I love that. I think the KBO
is definitely a step up from Triple-A. Truthfully, every team I've faced has a
few players that I think could definitely be successful in the States.
MyKBO: Who has been the
toughest batter you faced so far this season?
BJ: I'm not sure what his name is, but No.18 for Doosan (ed. note: Kim Dong-joo).
He's a great hitter and always seems to hit me the hardest.
MyKBO: What should LG Twins
fans expect each time you take the mound this season?
BJ: I just want them to
know that no matter what happens during the game, I'm not going to give
up. I will do whatever I can to give our team every opportunity to win
MyKBO: You are busy with
baseball most of the time, but have you and your wife been able to do any
sightseeing in Korea?
BJ: A little. We
did most of our sightseeing when my parents were in town this last week.
We did a tour of a Buddhist
Temple and a Korean
palace. Both were extremely beautiful and so interesting. We also
walked around parts of Olympic Park. I didn't realize how big that place was.
MyKBO: Have you found a
favorite Korean food yet? What's your favorite western restaurant to frequent?
BJ: My wife and I
really enjoyed the Korean style BBQ. That is delicious! We tried to do
that once a week. One of our favorite restaurants was LaGrillia at the
COEX. Their Italian style was very tasty.
MyKBO: What do you like to
do in your free-time?
BJ: I'm a big Call of Duty freak so I play lots of that. Need to
play as much as I can before this baby comes!
MyKBO: Is there anything
you’d like to say to your fans?
BJ: I love the fans here in Seoul and in the KBO. You guys make our
experiences as foreign players so much more enjoyable than you will ever
The final question is for Mrs. Jukich
MyKBO: Best and worst part about being the wife
of a professional baseball player?
KJ: I love to travel
and I love baseball--and being married to a professional baseball player, you
definitely get to do and see a lot of that! I am very fortunate to be able to
travel with my best friend across the world and be a part of his success. It's
a feeling that words could never fully describe. Especially when I know he has
the ability to do something that so many people only dream of doing. We are
very blessed. However, it's not always fun and games. It's very difficult to
spend a lot of time a part, which also comes with being married to an athlete.
I'm back in the States now getting ready for our son's arrival and it's
definitely difficult knowing that Ben won't get to see that. But Ben and I have
a strong marriage and we both work really hard to make sure we talk all the
time and Skype almost every day. It's a different life style, but we're both
supportive of each other which makes it easier. Plus...I'll be back at Jamsil
Stadium in a couple months with baby Jukichi! :) I love knowing our son will
get to see his daddy play baseball.
Professional baseball is played around the world in countries such as the United States, Mexico, Australia, and South Korea. Travis Blackley is now able to say that he has had the privilege of playing in each of those countries. Blackley is currently pitching for the KIA Tigers and is enjoying his first season in the KBO.
MyKBO.net had the honor of interviewing Travis Blackley via e-mail and would like to personally thank him for taking the time out of his schedule to answer the questions below.
MyKBO: Before signing with KIA,
what did you know about the KBO and Korean baseball? Does
anything surprise or stand out to you about how the game is played in
Korea, rules, fans, stadium atmosphere etc?
TB: I didn't know all that much about
it, except what I had heard from friends that had been playing in the
league over the years (Adrian Burnside, Brad Thomas Chris Oxspring,
Doug Clark and Jacob Cruz). I knew it was a great league and it
would be a step up from AAA. It hasn't disappointed! Surprises have
been the rules, I don't agree with any of them, i.e.: the balk rules
and the 12 second rule. The 3-5 warm-ups per inning. It has been
hard to adjust to that! I have played in a few countries and the
atmosphere in most is pretty much the same old thing, but here it is
pretty amazing! Similar to Mexico but on a much bigger scale! I
love a giant crowd whether I'm home or on the road!
MyKBO: In recent years, there have
been a few Australian pitchers in the KBO (Brad Thomas, Chris
Oxspring, Adrian Burnside), did you have a chance to talk to them
about their experience in the KBO? If so, did they give you any
advice or tips about living and playing baseball in Korea?
TB: I mentioned those guys in the last
answer. I had a chance to speak with them and they all agreed that I
would do well here if I just pitched my game with my style. They said
not to get caught up in all the video of the hitters and just stick
to my strengths. I have been doing that so far and it seems to be
working out well. I mainly use the video on myself to eradicate
anything I might be doing to tip pitches or help me stop the running
game. They also let me know that I should show respect to manager
and coaches as well as the older veteran players on the team.
MyKBO: How has it been fitting in
with your new team and teammates? Have you had any problems with
communication, translations etc?
TB: I have been fitting in well I
think. I am getting along with everyone and have made some good
friends. I think my relaxed and clownlike personality has helped. I
am serious when it's time to work but I think I loosen the team up a
bit in a stress filled environment that is the dugout during a game!
I have always been a positive person, and have heard from the coaches
and players that they like that quality in me. There is a bit of a
difficulty with communication but the boys and pitching coach have
been trying their best with the English. We have a translator, so he
helps out a lot.
Fastball, slider, curveball, change-up, and
cutter...anything else you like to throw? Are you currently working
on any new pitches?
TB: I throw whatever gets outs for me
on a particular day. I throw fastball, sinker, change, cutter and
curve. I also throw drop down sinker and slider to lefties and
occasionally on righties to give a different look. I just try to mix
my pitches, speeds and locations to get as many grounders as
possible. If I get a few punchies then I'm happy but I’m more
inclined to induce contact rather than strike out the side.
MyKBO: What should KIA fans expect
from you each time you take the mound this season?
TB: KIA fans are gonna get one no
doubt consistent fact every time I take the mound, I will give 110
percent. Always have. I hate to lose. I think the reason I have
been able to get a job year after year is because of my desire to
win. I care about my outings and numbers go out the window as long
as the team wins. I am here to help win a championship, not to
compile stats. If I do my job and produce quality outings then the
stats take care of themselves.
MyKBO: What made you decide to
continue your career in Korea and the KBO?
TB: The main reason I decided to make
the move to Korea: I was tired of playing the same cities against the
same people. Nobody wants to spend their career in AAA making no
money with a 1% chance of a callup regardless of how well they pitch.
It’s so political in the States and being out of options didn't
help me any. Having to impress a new organization every year became
draining, and I wasn't seeing a future with anyone. The A's gave me
a little better feeling but with their strong rotation in the big
leagues, I thought it better to make the move now. I have been keen
on the idea of playing in Asia and when this opportunity came along I
jumped at it.
MyKBO: The KBO season only began
the other week, but how would you compare the competition level in
the KBO compare to that of the Mexican and Australian leagues? Minor
leagues in the US?
TB: We aren't even a month into the
season and already I have noticed the change in standard of play
here. The Mexican league is quite strong in the winter but not this
good. The Australian league is just 1 year old and many of the
players there are either unsigned or in A ball or lower with a few AA
and AAA players. I think only 3 or 4 players had anytime in the MLB.
I think in time, the Australian league will be quite strong, but we
lack the depth in hitting. We have many great arms there so the
hitting will get better over time.
AAA is close to
the level here some of the time, but as it is a 142 game grind with
little time off, winning every game doesn't seem to be the priority.
I know that sounds weird but I think most organizations are more
about developing their young talent than trying to win ball games.
So, some games are really bad while others show great displays of
pitching and hitting. So far the KBO has shown me that winning comes
first and if you aren't doing your job then they will find someone
who will. I like that as I find it hard to watch bad games with no
MyKBO: Having participated in the
2009 WBC, what is your opinion about the WBC? Would you like to see
it continue in its present form?
TB: The WBC was an amazing experience.
I think it is great for baseball. I know that anytime you get to
represent your country in the sport you love it is a special
experience. For me, Australia isn't thought of as a powerful team,
but teams that play us know, they are in for a battle. I was able to
speak to Cuban catch Ariel Pestano while in Mexico after our
devastating 5-4 loss (which we were leading 4-3 with 2 outs in the
8th). He said that the team they most hate to play is us. We haven't
been beaten by them by more than 1 run in over 10 games and have won
3 of them. I was proud to be a member of the Aussie team when I
heard a player from a powerhouse team say that.
Also, being a
player for a country that doesn't even know baseball in terms of the
public, it was a great chance to give Australian baseball exposure.
When we 10-run rules Mexico in the opening game, it was all over the
news and the country stood up and noticed. We are a sporting country
as we display in the Olympics, just a shade over 22 million people,
yet we win plenty of medals. We also love an underdog so when the
people of Australia heard about our boys playing against the likes of
Mexico and Cuba and possibly the US, Japan and Korea, they took to us
and I think they felt our pain losing that game. That experience is
one I will never forget and hope I get to do it again. I think it
will continue because the ratings go through the roof worldwide.
MyKBO: Growing up, what made you
choose to play baseball over other sports?
TB: Growing up I was into swimming and
athletics. I came across baseball when my little brother started
playing tee ball. I started at 11 years old and wasn't great at it.
I never made a state team or Australian team until I was 17. I was
drawn to it from day one and decided right then I wanted to play in
the MLB despite what everyone thought. I had great support from
family and worked hard to get a chance in the US. Once over there, I
moved up fast making my debut for Seattle in my 4th season at 21
years of age. I just loved how challenging it is to be good day in
and out. I’m always up for a challenge, and this was my calling, I
couldn't imagine doing anything else.
MyKBO: If you weren't a baseball
player, what would you be doing?
TB: I never really thought about what
I would do if I wasn't playing baseball. I would probably want to
have been in a metal band as music is another one of my passions.
That would have been highly unlikely so I probably would have tried
to do something in sports, maybe physio or development of baseball in
MyKBO: Will your son be coming over
to see you play in Korea? Does he like baseball as well?
TB: As of now he is going to make it
out in his summer break. He loves baseball. He just started playing
back in Phoenix and is pretty good! He has my baseball cards and
photos of me playing by his bed. It's awesome to have a number 1 fan
who looks up to everything you do. He has been my biggest blessing
and I miss him so much! I speak to him as often as I can on Skype
but with the time difference it is hard to catch him every day. He
definitely helps me through the hard times with his smile and warms
me with his claim that I’m the best baseball player in the whole
MyKBO: AAA in the USA or the KBO?
How is the KBO better/worse (travel, hotels, etc) than being in the
TB: Better in every way. The
travel is easy here, the hotels are nicer. Ask anyone who
played in the PCL and they will say there is no worse league for
travel. Not to mention every ballpark in the league is a
launching pad. The money in AAA is so bad I would have to work
a regular job in the offseason or play winterball in Mexico. Nothing
I love to do more than pitch nonstop all year round for 3 seasons. I
compiled over 620 innings in 3 years between AAA and Mexico. My
arm finally had enough and I needed a minor surgery during last
season. This is definitely a step up for me
MyKBO: Have you found a favorite
Korean food yet? If not, what's your favorite western restaurant to
TB: Korean food is a little different,
but I have always liked Asian style food. I like spicy food too, as
I eat plenty in Mexico. I would have to say though bulgogi is my
favorite Korean dish. As for the American style food, Outback, TGI
Fridays and Dominos have kept me sane when rice is doing my head in.
MyKBO: How many tattoos do you
have? What's your favorite/most significant one and why?
TB: As for the number of tattoos,
that's hard to count. I go by hours. I've spent roughly 140 hours
in the chair and ready for more. A lot of them connect into one
another. So 11 if you count untouched skin between them. I love all
of them but my most recent unfinished left arm sleeve/chest plate
piece is my pride and joy. I also love my Australian flag with PRIDE
on my right forearm. The stories behind them are personal, but
describe experiences good and bad in my life. Some people like to
get a rush by jumping out of planes, I like to get mine from a tattoo
gun. There aren't many feelings that compare to how it feels just
after a 6 hour session. Maybe completing a marathon would compare.
A sense of accomplishment and exhaustion. Maybe striking out the
last hitter of the game for me would be just as good of a feeling.
MyKBO: PS3 or Xbox?
TB: Xbox man for sure. I'm a huge
Call Of Duty fan as well as Halo and Guitar Hero. I hold my own in
the shooter games but I am quite impressive on the guitar hero.
MyKBO: Vegemite or Tim Tams or
TB: Vegemite for sure. Don't get me
wrong, I love a Tim Tam, but I can't go a week without Vegemite
toast. I haven't since I was a baby. It is an acquired taste, but
once you like it, you love it.
MyKBO: What do you like to do in
TB: I mainly spend my free time
relaxing. Whether I’m surfing the net, chatting with mates back
home or playing video games. I normally do all three with my time
away from baseball. I also love golf but find it hard to get that
much time off to get a round in.
MyKBO: You recently used your
Twitter account to give away one of your jerseys, have you always
been involved with your fans via social networking?
TB: Not really. I had a Facebook with
fans from the US and Mexico, and opened a Twitter back in December
2010. I didn't get into it until the fans of the KIA Tigers started
following me. I went from just over 45 followers to the 1500+ I have
now since January. I like to show my appreciation to my fans, so I
felt what better way than to give away a jersey and some tickets to a
game. I actually presented the jersey today in Seoul to the winner.
It felt good to get so many responses for my jersey. I've never had
such a following. I will probably do something similar again soon,
maybe at 2500 followers.
MyKBO: What's the reason you go by
your first name "Travis/트레비스"
in the KBO rather than your last name "Blackley/블렉클리"?
TB: That wasn't up to me. It was
like that when i arrived. I kind of like it though. I
feel like a Ronaldo or Kobe. I wasn't too sure about the number
99 either, but if it's good enough for Rick Vaughan than it's good
enough for me, haha. I may never wear another number. I
like it that much now.
MyKBO: Is there anything that you’d
like to say to your fans?
TB: I'd like to thank everyone for the
support they have given me and the team. I have been made to feel at
home here and appreciate everyone for that. I hope we can win you
all another championship and see it as a possibility with fans like
ours! They have so much belief in us, even when we aren't feeling
the same way after a tough loss. I am proud to be apart of such a
great team and organization. The Lord has really blessed me with
this opportunity and I plan to do whatever it takes to help bring
home a championship, Thank you to all the fans from not only me, but
the rest of the KIA Tigers
Jerry Royster will always be known as the first foreign manager in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). He will also be remembered for taking the Lotte Giants to 3 straight postseasons during his time in Busan (before Royster took over, the Giants had missed the playoffs for 7 straight seasons). Royster managed the Lotte Giants from 2008 until 2010, posting a regular-season record of 204-185 and 3 ties. Despite the winning record and multiple playoff berths, Lotte decided to not bring Royster back for the 2011 season.
MyKBO.net had the honor of participating in an e-mail interview with Jerry Royster. While MyKBO.net is disappointed that Jerry Royster will not be returning to Lotte in the 2011 season, we are hoping that he returns to manage in the KBO in the future.
MyKBO: Since you departed Korea, how have you been spending your time?
JR: I have just moved to Santa Monica on the beach. I have spent my time traveling with my family and playing golf. It feels strange not to be in camp at this time.
MyKBO: With baseball season right around the corner, are you currently involved in anything baseball related (scouting, broadcasting, coaching etc)? If not, are you enjoying your time away from the sport?
JR: I will be doing some broadcasting once Spring Training games start.
MyKBO: If you had never played/managed the sport of baseball, what do you think you would be doing these days?
JR: I have been in professional baseball since I graduated from High School in 1971 (40 years). Playing in the Major Leagues was something I wanted to do since I was a kid. I was blessed with 2 beautiful daughters and I know that I would be doing everything in my power to seeing their dreams fulfilled.
MyKBO: Upon arriving in Korea, was there anything that stood out or surprised you about the game of baseball in Korea (the way it was played, rules, atmosphere etc)? If so, what was it?
JR: I didn’t know anything about Korean baseball before meeting with the ownership of the Lotte Giants. Training camp reminded me of my first days as a professional. Everything was new. The players didn’t know me and I didn’t know them. We broke the game down from the beginning. The one thing that I noticed was that almost all the players were not playing to their potential. It was fun to watch them develop.
MyKBO: In the upcoming 2011 season the KBO has decided to not count ties as losses, but they will continue to allow games to end in a tie. What is your opinion about the tie game rule in the KBO? Would you like to see games be played until a winner is decided?
JR: Ties as losses was the single worst rule in KBO. It seemed as though the league dwelled on the negative. I believe that they should play the games out but I hope that ties count for at least 1/2 a win.
MyKBO: If you were the Commissioner of the KBO for a day, what would be one thing that you would like to change? Why?
JR: KBO is a very good organization and is getting better. I would make the managers exchange lineups before the game as oppose to announcing the pitchers the night before.
MyKBO: Other than the language barrier, what would you say was the most difficult part about being a foreign manager in the KBO? Did you ever encounter any sort of discrimination against you for being a foreigner during your stay in Korea (on or off the baseball field)?
JR: No one was treated better than I was. The opposing managers and umpires were very respectful and accommodating. The people of Korea treated me like one of their own. Lotte did everything they could to make me comfortable.
MyKBO: Recently the KBO announced the approval of a 9th team to be based in Changwon. The Lotte Giants voted against this expansion team. What is your opinion about the KBO's plans to expand?
JR: It just shows the popularity of baseball in Korea. The game has grown so much in the last 3 years. Winning the gold medal in 2008 was monument for Korean baseball and it has grown ever since. With 3 teams drawing over a million fans last season proved to KBO that a 9th team would thrive in Changwon.
MyKBO: If the opportunity came about, would you be interested in returning to Korea to manage in the future? If yes, would you be interested in managing the new expansion team or would you prefer a team that has already been established?
JR: I would love to manage again in Korea. Lotte will always be special to me but managing any team in KBO sounds good.
MyKBO: With the possibility of Yoon Suk-min, Ryu Hyun-jin, Kim Kwang-hyun, and others trying to go abroad in the near future, which player(s) currently in the KBO do you think could one day make a MLB team roster?
JR: There are many players that could play in MLB with a bit of coaching. Again most KBO players are not close to reaching their potential. Lee Dae-ho won the Triple Crown and still has room for improvement.
MyKBO: How would you describe the Lotte Giants' fans and the atmosphere at Sajik Stadium?
JR: Just amazing. I wish everyone here in America could see what I experienced on a daily basis.
MyKBO: What was one of your most memorable moments during your time in Korea (baseball or non-baseball related)?
JR: Number one for sure was the banner that covered the left field stands in Seoul that the Korean fans made for me in support of me returning for the 2011 season. It literally brought tears to my eyes...Playing golf with President George Bush on a few occasions...Lunch with Colin Powell...Spending the day on the USS George Washington with Commander Dave Lausman.
MyKBO: What is your favorite Korean food? What was your favorite Western restaurant in Korea?
JR: The Kitchen at the W hotel in Seoul was my favorite western style restaurant. All of the seafood soups were my favorite Korean dishes.
MyKBO: Will you continue to follow the KBO, its teams and players from here in the United States?
JR: I stay in contact with many of my players and coaches from Lotte. I will follow the games on Naver.
MyKBO: Many Lotte fans and other KBO fans wish you were still managing in Korea. Is there anything you would like to say to your fans in Korea and around the globe?
JR: I miss you all very much. I would have loved to stay in Korea but Lotte wanted to go in a different direction. I look forward to returning to Korea soon. Thank you for all the support that I continue to receive.
Note: MyKBO.net would like to thank Jerry Royster for taking the time to answer these questions. During our communication between each other, Jerry wanted to make sure that the following message was said,
"Please let all the fans know how much I appreciate their support".
Fans around the KBO will miss seeing him in the dugout this season, but we all hope he will return to Korea in the near future. Keep checking back here for more interviews with various people involved with the KBO.