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Newly crowned hit king eyes 1st championship

2018/06/23 22:51

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SEOUL, June 23 (Yonhap) -- LG Twins' veteran designated hitter Park Yong-taik, crowned the new hit king in South Korean baseball on Saturday, has now set his sights on the ultimate prize -- the championship trophy.

Park went 4-for-6 against the Lotte Giants on Saturday to become the career hits leader in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) with 2,321. Needing two hits to break the previous record held by Yang Joon-hyuk, Park enjoyed his first four-hit game of the 2018 season to move three ahead of the retired legend.

Park, 39, has spent his entire 17-year career with the Seoul-based Twins. He played in the Korean Series, the KBO's championship final, as a rookie in 2002, but lost to the Lions in six games. The Twins haven't been back to the Korean Series since.

Park Yong-taik of the LG Twins acknowledges the crowd after setting a Korea Baseball Organization record with his 2,319th career hit against the Lotte Giants in the bottom of the fourth inning of their regular season game at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on June 23, 2018. (Yonhap) Park Yong-taik of the LG Twins acknowledges the crowd after setting a Korea Baseball Organization record with his 2,319th career hit against the Lotte Giants in the bottom of the fourth inning of their regular season game at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on June 23, 2018. (Yonhap)

After his record-breaking performance, Park said winning a championship is what he'd like to accomplish more than anything else.

"I've never even thought about retiring," said Park, currently the second oldest hitter in the KBO. "Until I win a championship, I won't let anyone force me into retirement. I think I'll even beg (the Twins) to keep me on board until we win a title."

   Park admitted he may be guilty of taking a trip to the Korean Series for granted as a rookie.

"I played in the Korean Series in my first year, and I never thought things would turn out like this (without a Korean Series appearance for the next 15 seasons)," he said. "And I also never imagined I'd be nearing 40 without having won a title in an LG uniform. Baseball is such a difficult game."

   Behind Park's four-hit effort, which included three doubles, the Twins hammered the Giants 18-8 on Saturday. The Twins, who have had an eight-game winning streak and an eight-game losing skid, are in third place at 43-34, eight games back of the first-place Doosan Bears.

Park said he feels great about his team's chances this year.

"I don't know if I've ever felt this good about our club in any other season," he said. "The guys know exactly what they're supposed to do. I think we're truly playing as one team for the same goal."

   Park said he wasn't putting any extra pressure on himself to break the record because "I knew I would get to it at some point this season." He said he really wanted to set the record in a victory, and Park more than did his share in the victory, as he knocked in two runs and scored three more.

During the on-field celebration after Park got his record in the bottom of the fourth inning, Yang, the former record holder, came out to the field to congratulate Park.

Park Yong-taik of the LG Twins (R) is congratulated by former star Yang Joon-hyuk after breaking Yang's Korea Baseball Organization record with his 2,319th hit against the Lotte Giants in the bottom of the fourth inning of their regular season game at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on June 23, 2018. (Yonhap) Park Yong-taik of the LG Twins (R) is congratulated by former star Yang Joon-hyuk after breaking Yang's Korea Baseball Organization record with his 2,319th hit against the Lotte Giants in the bottom of the fourth inning of their regular season game at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on June 23, 2018. (Yonhap)

"I told him it was an honor to have him at the stadium today," Park said. "I said I'll do my best not to taint his legacy. And he told me to go for 3,000 hits. I feel that players need to set big goals for themselves to stay motivated for a long time, and I will be chasing 3,000 hits."

   Park has been one of the KBO's most consistent hitters over the past decade, and hasn't lost a beat well into his 30s. In 2016, in his age 37 season, Park set a career high with 176 hits and 90 RBIs, while batting .346, his highest batting average in seven years. In the following year, Park matched those 90 RBIs, while batting .344 with 175 hits.

This year, he's batting .324 through 76 games. He's four hits shy of reaching the century mark for the 10th consecutive season.

As he gets older, Park said the key is to "make quick adjustments."

   "I just have to be aware of how my body changes," he said. "Obviously, my physical abilities will diminish over time. I have to compensate for that with my techniques and experience."

   jeeho@yna.co.kr

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