Making the jump from the minor leagues to the major leagues is no easy task. Only those who survive the fierce competition can make it to the big leagues.
It’s a narrow gate, even for American and Latin American players who don’t have to deal with cultural differences. It’s even harder for players who come from countries across the ocean.
Many players have traveled this road before. Some have succeeded, others have not. Now in his second year in the United States, Cho Won-bin is following that path.
(Continued from Part 1)
One of the hardest things for Korean players to adjust to when they come to the U.S. is the sudden increase in free time. How do you spend it?
I’m bored at home. Being alone makes me think a lot, so I recently bought a PlayStation. I’m not a big gamer, but I thought it would be something to occupy my time. I’ve been playing FIFA and MLB The Show. I haven’t really gotten into it yet, but I’m trying everything I can.
If I’m playing The Show, I’ll probably play Road to the Show (a simulation mode where you develop a minor leaguer to the big leagues).
Yeah. I recently created a player who was identical to me in terms of build, look, and swing. Then I created a new player. A different shortstop, a switch-hitter.
The player in the game who looks exactly like me is now at a higher level than me. His team is the Cardinals. And I felt like if he didn’t do well in the game, I wouldn’t either. The game is supposed to be fun, not stressful.
If it’s stressful, there are ways to lower the difficulty and conquer the league.
I’m always the cautionary tale of making things difficult (laughs).
Do you live alone at home?
I have three roommates. We have our own room and bathroom, and we share the living room and kitchen.
Do you have an interpreter?
No, I don’t have an interpreter.
No interpreter? I had one last year.
It’s not that I don’t like my previous interpreter, he still works in the complex in a different department. We still go out to eat together, we still get along. It’s not a problem at all. The club offered me a job if I needed one, but I talked to my agent 스포츠토토 and decided against it. I think the most important thing is to be able to communicate freely, understand what my teammates are saying and play well. It may be inconvenient now, but I thought it would help me in the future to live without an interpreter. Even in the winter, I was only in Korea for a month, and the rest of the time I was in the United States. I tried to make my English sound natural. Now I can almost carry on a normal conversation. If I have a meeting or come across a word that is a bit difficult, I have a hard time.
Are there still situations where you need an interpreter, like in meetings or important occasions?
I still don’t understand perfectly, but if I’m in a meeting about something I’m lacking, I know what I’m lacking in that situation, so I have some understanding, even if it’s not perfect. I know what I’m being called for, and that’s how I live my life. The person who translated for me works at the same place, so if they think it’s important, they’ll call me in.
Now that I think about it, my body has improved a lot compared to last year.
I’ve gotten bigger without realizing it. My power is better, my speed is better, my elasticity is better. I don’t really take care of anything. I’m eating well, no matter what. Last winter, I realized that I had gotten bigger and to prevent myself from becoming too sluggish, I focused my training on strengthening my core muscles and speed rather than weights. It seems to be paying off now.
You said you don’t cut back on food, how have you adjusted to the food here?
I haven’t even tried American food. Sometimes I miss Korean food, but if I don’t eat it, I forget about it, and if I crave it too much, I cook it. It’s a long way from here to the Korean grocery store, but I go and buy it.
Do you keep in touch with other Korean players?
I’m in contact with Hyung-chan (Uhm) the most. He’s in Arizona right now (his team, the Kansas City Royals, have a camp in Surprise, Arizona), so it’s a different time zone, but we video call whenever we can. Among the other seniors, I’m in contact with (Bae) Ji-hwan Lee a lot.
What is your relationship with Bae?
When I was in high school and decided to go to the U.S., he gave me a lot of advice and gave me confidence. He helped me a lot to get here, and we stayed in touch from time to time after I got here. During spring training, I visited him on my days off and ate with him. When I went to a major league exhibition game, he called me first. He shares his own path and gives me advice.
It’s refreshing to get advice from a major league rookie. What was the most memorable thing he said?
I don’t think he said anything particularly memorable, but he mostly gave me practical advice. I’ll tell him what I’m doing wrong and what I’m nervous about, and he’ll say, “You’ll get better as you play.” It’s just nice. I love every time we talk.
Is there a player you want to emulate?
Since I came to the United States, I’ve been thinking about Bryce Harper (Philadelphia). He’s a great hitter, he’s not a great baserunner, but he’s fast and he’s got a strong shoulder on defense. If Harper is a role model or something that you dream about, then realistically, Shin-Soo Choo is my goal. I want to be a great outfielder like Shin-Soo Choo, and I’m playing in a better environment than when he played. I don’t know which part, but I want to surpass him in one way or another.
It’s a good goal. But I think I’ll have a lot of problems. Right now, Korean athletes have to face a huge barrier: the military.
I’m at the age where I can go to the army, and I have friends who have gone to the army. Jose Jin Han (Lotte), who played with me on the youth national team, is playing for Sangmu, and Cho Min-sung (Samsung), who went to Hwamun Middle School with me, was recently accepted to Sangmu. I have many other friends who spend time in the military. Still, for the next seven years, I think I’ll be more worried about getting to the big leagues than the military. I’m not being chased (by the military). If I don’t have a vision in seven years, I’m not a major leaguer. At that point, I’d like to go to Korea, solve the military issue and set other goals.
Of course, that’s not going to happen.
I think so too (laughs). I think I need to organize those thoughts. The season is long. It’s not like I’m going to go 3-for-3 right now and get to the big leagues faster than everyone else and make more money. It’s about being consistent like I am now. I want to go through the cycle and take it as it comes and as it goes and as it doesn’t come. I want to be a slow, long player rather than a fast player who goes fast and comes down fast.
As we wrapped up the interview, it was time for the team to assemble. One by one, the players were entering the clubhouse. “My goal this year is to go to the fall league,” he replied confidently to the reporter’s request to see him on a bigger stage next time. I shook his hand one last time. I could still feel the calluses on his palms.