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Longtime minor leaguer thriving as everyday player

2018/05/16 10:08

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SEOUL, May 16 (Yonhap) -- One frustrating season after another in the minor league, Doosan Bears' infielder Choi Joo-hwan stuck it out, biding his time until he got his break and opportunity.

And after more than 2,000 plate appearances in the Futures League, Choi is not just an everyday player for the first-place team in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) in 2018. He is also the league leader with 39 RBIs in 40 games through Tuesday's action.

And to hear the 30-year-old tell it, he has no regrets over all those years in the minors. If anything, Choi said he learned so much there.

"It's thanks to all that experience I had in the Futures League that I've gotten the opportunity to play here," Choi said Tuesday. "Ever since I became pro in 2006, I've been playing Future League games pretty consistently. But even if it's in the minors, you always gain valuable experience just by stepping up to the plate. I am sure it has helped me a lot."

  

In this file photo from May 11, 2018, Choi Joo-hwan of the Doosan Bears (R) celebrates his two-run home run against the Nexen Heroes with his third base coach Kong Pill-sung during a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul. (Yonhap) In this file photo from May 11, 2018, Choi Joo-hwan of the Doosan Bears (R) celebrates his two-run home run against the Nexen Heroes with his third base coach Kong Pill-sung during a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul. (Yonhap)

Choi has had 2,378 plate appearances across 570 Futures League games. And that's no mean feat because players usually don't stay long enough in the minors to accumulate those numbers. If players thrive, they will get called up by their KBO clubs before even playing that many games. And struggling ones often call it quits instead of waiting for opportunities that may or may not come.

Choi said he was "lucky" because he was getting consistent opportunities in the Futures League and had just enough action in the KBO to keep him in the game.

"Of course, I used to get restless when the Bears didn't bring me up," Choi said. "But I built up a lot of playing experience. So many things happen within the course of a Futures League game, and you can apply lessons learned from those to KBO games."

   Choi got his first extensive opportunity with the Bears in 2012, when he appeared in 81 games as a backup infielder. Last year, he played a career-high 129 games and batted .301 with seven home runs and 57 RBIs, all of them new personal bests, too.

So far this year, Choi is ahead of more established sluggers, such as Choi Jeong of the SK Wyverns and Lee Dae-ho of the Lotte Giants, in the RBI department.

"I am sure those big bats will pass me soon," Choi said. "The biggest objective for a hitter is to put runs on the board for his team. And I'm going to try to knock in runs for my team at every opportunity. And my goal is to become a better player than I was in 2017."

   jeeho@yna.co.kr

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