One day after being discharged from the military, the KIA Tigers’ Choi Won-jun (26) stepped up to the plate for the first time and the fans cheered loudly.
After receiving a warm welcome, Choi bowed toward third base and the backstop to thank them, and then promptly lined a pitch to left field for his first hit since returning. It was a moment he had imagined every day for 18 months.메이저사이트
Choi Won-jun was named to the starting lineup for the Korea Baseball Organization’s 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League away game against the Kiwoom Heroes at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Wednesday. After being discharged from the Armed Forces Athletic Corps (Commerce) the day before, Choi joined the KIA first team squad and immediately made his comeback.
“I didn’t think I’d be starting the next day after being discharged,” Choi said, but it’s a trick that Kia head coach Kim Jong-guk has been playing for a while. “When he was in the business, I kept in touch with him, saying, ‘Be ready,'” Kim said.
Choi started the game batting second and playing first base. It’s been 1446 days since he started at first base, his primary outfield position, since June 28, 2019, against the Suwon KT Wiz.
Given the team’s abundance of outfielders and lack of infielders, Choi is expected to play first base frequently. Coach Kim said, “I’m playing first base (instead of the outfield) right now, but I think I’ll adapt well. We plan to play both outfield and first base in the future.”
Choi Won-jun was also eager to defend first base ahead of the tournament. He said, “I was prepared for first base. I decided that utility was better for me to play a lot of games. I practiced first base for about a week. It was the first time I practiced first base in four or five years, and my body remembered it,” he said. “I felt good because my older brothers, who I supported during my service, were doing well. I didn’t think I would play after I returned to the team, so I think it gave me an opportunity to prepare even harder.”
Choi Won-jun didn’t just prepare for first base. In order to contribute to the team and play baseball well, he also lost about 10 kilograms from the 90-kilogram range and now weighs between 81 and 82 kilograms. “When I was in commerce, I gained about 90 kilograms, but I didn’t think I could be competitive in the first team if I only played the kind of baseball I wanted to play. In the end, the kind of baseball I need to play at KIA is to maximize my mobility,” Choi emphasized.
KIA Tigers’ Choi Won-jun waves to the crowd during his first at-bat in the first inning against the KIUM Heroes of the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, South Korea, on March 13.(Photo courtesy of KIA Tigers)
Earlier, Choi received a big global gift. He was named as a wild card to the final roster for the Hangzhou Asian Games baseball team, which was announced on Sept. 9.
“I didn’t think about making the team at all. My name was on the wildcard list, but I didn’t think anything of it. When I saw the name Choi Won-jun on the final roster, I thought it was ‘Doosan Bears pitcher Choi Won-jun,'” he recalled four days earlier.
“As a baseball player, I dreamed of representing my country since I was a kid. It’s an honor,” he said, “and it made me feel recognized. It made me want to work even harder.”
Now that the slow-moving clock at the Ministry of National Defense has run out and he’s transferred, Choi still doesn’t feel like a “civilian. “After being in the military for one year and six months, I can’t adjust to society,” he laughs, “I feel like I have to wake up early, and I’m nervous about using my cell phone freely.”
Despite his mischievous laugh, he says he’s become more mature. “Growing up in the military has made me think more deeply. I used to be a bit of a brat, but now I’m trying to be more serious,” he said, “I think I’ve grown up a bit.”