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(Yonhap Interview) Veteran pitcher unsure of future beyond 2018

2017/10/30 08:37

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By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Oct. 30 (Yonhap) -- Now well into his 30s, Dustin Nippert, right-hander for the Doosan Bears in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), understands better than anyone his career is winding down.

And he's as determined as ever to enjoy and cherish every moment with his teammates in the ongoing Korean Series, the KBO's championship final, against the Kia Tigers, because he doesn't know when he'll get another chance.

Speaking to Yonhap News Agency before Game 4 on Sunday at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul, Nippert, 36, said he isn't exactly sure what the long-term future in baseball holds for him.

"I definitely want to play next season and then after that, honestly, I don't know," said Nippert, who's been with the Bears since 2011 after a stint in Major League Baseball. "We'll see how I feel next season and then just go from there. I know I at least want to play one more, and then after that, we'll see what happens."

   What he does know for certain is he doesn't want to get into coaching, at least not right away.

"I feel like I've given baseball a lot of time, and it's taken away a lot from me and my family," he said. "If I eventually coach, it will be a while later. It'll be at least five or 10 years down the road. I just need time to get away and enjoy life away from baseball field."

  

Dustin Nippert of the Doosan Bears throws a pitch against the Kia Tigers in the bottom of the fourth inning in Game 1 of the Korean Series at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju on Oct. 25, 2017. (Yonhap) Dustin Nippert of the Doosan Bears throws a pitch against the Kia Tigers in the bottom of the fourth inning in Game 1 of the Korean Series at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju on Oct. 25, 2017. (Yonhap)

For now, Nippert continues to enjoy his time on the field with his teammates, win or lose.

"In the playoffs, it's just about having fun," he said. "This is bonus baseball. This is what we work so hard all season for. Just try to go out there and have fun, and whatever happens, happens."

   For most athletes, competing with a championship on the line is a situation fraught with pressure. But that's not how Nippert views the Korean Series. In his book, every game is the same, be it in the regular season or the postseason.

On Monday, Nippert is scheduled to pitch in one of the most important games of his KBO career. His Bears are trailing the Tigers in the best-of-seven Korean Series three games to one, after dropping Sunday's Game 4 by 5-1. Nippert has to rescue the Bears from the brink and keep their three-peat bid alive.

But Nippert said he won't put any more pressure on himself just because it's a postseason game.

"I feel like I've pitched my entire career the same way," he said. "I don't put any more importance on games if it's Game 7 of the Korean Series or if it's the first game of the season. Every start is important."

   It's that kind of even-keeled attitude that has made the lanky American one of the best starting pitchers in the league over the past seven seasons. The longest-tenured foreign player in the team history, Nippert is 94-43 with a 3.48 ERA in 185 regular season games for the Bears. He was voted the 2016 MVP after going 22-3 with a 2.95 ERA.

He has also been outstanding in postseasons. He didn't allow any run in three appearances in the 2015 and 2016 Korean Series, a span of 17 1/3 innings, to help the Bears win titles in both years. And Nippert was the winning pitcher in Game 1 of this year's Korean Series after holding the Tigers to three earned runs in six innings.

That has been the Bears' only win this series, as the Tigers have reeled off three straight wins since then. But instead of worrying about wins and losses, Nippert said he just wants to enjoy the ride.

"I feel like every player should cherish (the Korean Series) because honestly, you don't know when you'll be back here," Nippert said. "I've been fortunate that this is my fourth one since I've been in Korea. A lot of these guys, they might never play this again. Or they might play it again next year. You never know. That's just how baseball is. You never know what's going to happen next year or next day. I feel like I cherish all of them, and I hope everybody else does too."

  

Dustin Nippert of the Doosan Bears (L) high-fives second baseman Oh Jae-won after completing the bottom of the second inning against the Kia Tigers in Game 1 of the Korean Series at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju on Oct. 25, 2017. (Yonhap) Dustin Nippert of the Doosan Bears (L) high-fives second baseman Oh Jae-won after completing the bottom of the second inning against the Kia Tigers in Game 1 of the Korean Series at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju on Oct. 25, 2017. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr

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