Choo translates experience into wins
Roster's lone Major Leaguer helping Korea roll through Classic
By Rhett Bollinger / MLB.com
Shin-Soo Choo entered Monday's final with a .444 on-base percentage in the Classic. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)
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LOS ANGELES -- Team Korea right fielder Shin-Soo Choo brings a little bit of everything to the table for his team.
He can hit for power -- as evidenced by his three-run home run against Team Venezuela in Saturday night's World Baseball Classic semifinal game -- he can draw walks and he has a strong arm in the outfield.
But Choo brings something else to his team that no one else can -- current Major League Baseball playing experience.
As the lone big leaguer on Team Korea, Choo is often asked to help scout opponents whose rosters are littered with Major Leaguers.
That was perfectly exhibited against Venezuela on Saturday, when Choo told his teammates to be patient against right-hander Carlos Silva and look for a sinker to drive into the outfield. Choo listened to his own advice, knocking a three-run homer, and Tae Kyun Kim followed with a two-run homer in the second inning to chase Silva from the game.
"Shin-Soo knew about the pitcher, and we talked about it a lot," Kim said. "We believed a lot of sinkers were going to be thrown, I was aware of it and that's how we were able to hit."
Even though Choo played baseball growing up in South Korea, his transition to playing for his country in the World Baseball Classic wasn't easy. He left his native country for the Mariners farm system in 2001 as an 18-year-old after being named the Most Valuable Player of the World Junior Baseball Championship as a left-handed pitcher.
That was the last time Choo represented his country on the baseball field, so he jumped at the chance to play for Korea in this year's World Baseball Classic. So far, Choo has been impressed by his teammates, who won the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics.
"They are excellent players -- better than I expected," Choo said of his teammates after Saturday's 10-2 win. "Even in comparison with Major League players."
That begs the question of why there aren't more Korean-born players in the Majors. Choo, one of only 13 Koreans to have appeared in the big leagues, still doesn't quite have an answer.
"I don't know why," Choo said. "As a Major Leaguer myself, in terms of the actual players in the Major Leagues and the other players, there is not a great deal of difference in talent."
Korea manager In Sik Kim admitted before the semifinals that his team is less talented on paper than the United States, Venezuela and Japan. But games aren't played on paper, and even though Choo is the only Major Leaguer playing for Korea, the team has steamrolled through opponents.
Saturday's game prompted Venezuela manager Luis Sojo to say he expects to see more and more Koreans in the Major Leagues in coming years.
"It surprises me that there aren't that many Koreans in the big leagues, but I think from now on, there will be," Sojo said.
Korea prides itself on having discipline at the plate, on the basepaths and in the field. As a team, Korea entered Monday night's final with an on-base percentage of .385, nine stolen bases in 10 attempts and just six errors in 15 Classic games dating back to the inaugural tournament in 2006.
Choo said Korea's style is far different from what he sees in the United States, especially offensively.
"Major league players' style is to always be very active," Choo said. "But in comparison, Korea and Japan, we are more patient at batting. We are more meticulous, and when we get a good pitch, we put it in play."
Korea's style certainly isn't the only way to win, but it sure is working in the World Baseball Classic, a tournament Choo won't soon forget, whether Korea brings home the title or not.
"When the [tournament] is over, I will think that this will be an unforgettable Classic that I experienced," Choo said. "I learned a lot from all the players. The [Classic] is great."