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.
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:
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.