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 opportunity.
MyKBO: Before arriving in Seoul, what did you know
about the KBO and Korean
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 to first.
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 paying off.
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 born.
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 ball games.
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 know.
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.