SSG Landers’ Choi Ji-hoon, who along with Kiwoom Heroes’ Kim Hye-sung, set the table for the Korean baseball team, helped the team win its fourth consecutive gold medal at the Games.
South Korea, led by head coach Ryu Jung-il, clinched the baseball gold medal at the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games with a 2-0 victory over Chinese Taipei in the gold medal game on Sunday at the Shaoxing Baseball & Softball Sports Center-Baseball in Hangzhou, China. The team’s dominance in Guangzhou 2010, Incheon 2014, Jakarta-Palembang 2018, and Hangzhou this year has been unparalleled.
This time around, the team was notable for its younger roster compared to previous Asian Games. When the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) announced the final roster in June, it said, “Players aged 25 or younger or in their fourth year of play were selected, with three players aged 29 or younger selected as wild cards.” The importance of generational change has been highlighted both inside and outside of baseball, and the Asian Games team selection process could not ignore it.
It was a challenge and an adventure to play in such a big event without the so-called “mainstays” of the Olympic, World Baseball Classic (WBC), and Premier 12. Of the 24 players named to the final roster for the tournament, only nine had played at least one game in international competition, including the age- and year-restricted Asian Professional Baseball Championship (APBC). The players who were selected to wear the Korean flag at the Asian Games came with a lot of responsibility and pressure.
Choi Ji-hoon, one of the mainstays of the outfield, was no different. “SSG coach Kim Won-hyung said a lot of good things to me, but I’m not too worried because there are a lot of seniors and Eredia who are better than me,” he told reporters at the Incheon SSG Landers Field on March 22, a day before the national team was called up. I think the pressure is on me to go out there and do well,” he confessed. His worries about the Asian Games took precedence over his inability to play for his team.
Choi made the WBC squad in March, but was mostly used as a backup, going 2-for-3 with a .667 OPS, one RBI and two walks in three games. “I went (to the WBC) as a backup, not a starter, so there was no pressure, and I thought I would come back with a good experience. I was worried about going (to the international tournament) so soon,” he said.
But her worries were short-lived. Choi, who had been conditioning with domestic training and scrimmages, was the spearhead of the offense in the three group games, going 11-for-6 with a .545 batting average, one home run and four RBIs, before going 2-for-1 with a double and a triple against Japan on Friday and 5-for-5 with a home run and two RBIs against China on Saturday. In the Japan game, he even laid down a sacrifice bunt twice, which was a nice touch.
There was also a happy ending. Choi Ji-hoon went 1-for-3 with a double and a walk in the final game against Chinese Taipei on Sunday. Leadoff hitter Kim Hye-sung struggled with a 4-for-4 performance, but he worked hard to get on base, and played a lot of defensive innings in the absence of specialized outfielders. Choi’s final line for the tournament was 21-for-11 with a .524 batting average, one home run, five RBIs, and a 1.209 OPS.
For a team that was forced to rebuild its outfield after an era of outfielders, including Kim Hyun-soo (LG), returned to Korea, this tournament showed the growth of Choi Ji-hoon. Now, it’s likely that Choi will be the starting outfielder not only at the Asian Games, but also at international tournaments like the Premier12 and WBC.스포츠토토
Before the tournament, Choi vowed, “If me and (Park) Sung-han go out there and play well, I think the fans can feel a little more proud of us.” With a batting average of over 5%, he fulfilled his promise to the fans and is now looking forward to returning to his team and helping them make the leap.