“A young team with a clear future.”
That’s how Gye-hyun Cho, chairman of the KBO’s Power Enhancement Committee, describes the team that will compete at the Hangzhou Asian Games. “The number of players who will compete in the Hangzhou Asian Games is limited because they are under the age of 25,” Cho told the World Journal in an interview at the KBO in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, on 15 April. “We plan to build a team with a vision for the future of Korea’s national baseball team, not just a one-off.” “We are looking at the 198 players on the preliminary roster in an aggressive and detailed manner,” he said, adding, “Every member of the committee has different ideas, so we will communicate with them and gather their opinions carefully to build the team wisely.”스포츠토토
South Korean baseball was considered world-class a decade ago. A third-place finish at the 2006 World Baseball Classic (WBC), an outright victory at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and a runner-up finish at the 2009 WBC sent morale soaring. Perhaps they were overconfident, but their subsequent performances were disastrous. The team failed to win a medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, and after the WBC in 2017, they were knocked out of the preliminary round of the World Baseball Classic in March. In the wake of the embarrassment, the KBO set up a committee to revitalise the Korean baseball team.
“Baseball fans are now accustomed to not only Korean baseball, but also Major League Baseball, which is at a higher level than ours,” Cho said of the team’s struggles, adding, “As a baseball person and a senior, it must have been a lot of pressure to support (the international campaign).” “I don’t think players who can’t handle the weight of the national team are fit for it,” Cho said, emphasising that they must have the mindset and sense of responsibility when wearing the flag. “In the past, players on the national team only wanted to play for their country,” Cho said, adding, “In my case, when I saw the flag in a foreign country, I was so excited and proud that I delayed my professional career to play for the national team.” “The expectation of the Hangzhou Asian Games is ‘gold medal of course’, so there is a lot of weight, responsibility and pressure in the position of selecting players for the national team,” he said, “but pressure is also something that must be overcome, and I have been playing baseball under pressure all my life.”
Cho was so attached to the flag that he made his professional debut in 1989 at the age of 25, a year late, in order to play for the national team. When asked about this, Cho waved his hand and said, “It’s unthinkable nowadays because players are so expensive and valuable.”
In 13 seasons, Cho compiled a record of 126-92 with a 3.14 ERA. Known as the “Fighting Chicken” or “Eight Hues,” Cho finished five seasons with a sub-2 ERA. In 1995, he was so good that he pitched 126 innings with a 1.71 ERA. “I’m cautious because we don’t have a national team,” he says, but he is encouraged by the growing number of hard-throwing pitchers. “There are more young pitchers throwing fastballs as their physicality improves, and there are players with good fastballs,” he said, adding, “I was a pitcher who had both, and you don’t have to be arrogant like me to work out.”
Cho is a “perfect fit” for the team. Cho won the first World Youth Baseball Championship in 1981, the first time he played under the Korean flag, winning all 14 games. He also won gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, where he was the pitching coach. “It’s just luck,” Cho laughed, “and I hope this good momentum continues.”