After spending nearly $62 million to import Hyun Jin Ryu from Korean, the Dodgers have high hopes as he takes the mound tonight. The team spent over $25 million for exclusive negotiating rights to the 6’2” lefty and another $36 for a six-year contract. A seven-time all star in the Korean Professional Baseball league, Ryu says he’s ready.
“I’m growing more confident,” Ryu said before Friday’s Freeway Series contest with the Angels. “Even my physicality is getting better. I’m at the point where I thought I’d be as the season starts. I’m ready to go.”
Ryu follows yesterday’s record-setting performance of Clayton Kershaw, who pitched a shutout and hit a home run in his Opening Day start.
If success in his homeland is any indication of how he’ll do here, the Korean southpaw will be just fine. Ryu was dominant in facing Korean hitters, leading the league in strikeouts five of the last six years. But the MVP of the KPB league in 2006 knows there’s a difference between the batters he faced at home and the batters he’ll face here.
“I think the biggest difference between Korean hitters and Major League hitters is their brute strength,” said Ryu. “In Korea I can get away with a mistake or two, but I’ve noticed here that one mistake equals a homerun.
That strength doesn’t always translate to success in the batters’ box.
“The power that hitters here possess can be both a good thing and a bad thing when you’re pitching against them.”
When Ryu broke into professional baseball in 2006, he made an immediate impact, winning the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards. He’s hoping to find that same success as he begins his career in America, and believes he can be the National League’s Rookie of the Year here too.
“It might take 12 or 13 wins (to earn Rookie of the Year), and I can do that,” Ryu said. “My goal is to stay in the rotation the whole year and stay healthy.”
The adjustment to pitching on another continent has been made easier in part because of the large Korean population in Los Angeles. When asked about the best part about pitching in the City of Angels, Ryu smiled.
“The fact that I can go to Koreatown, not speak English and be ok is pretty nice. Luckily I found some pretty good Korean restaurants here in Los Angeles. My mom just got here so she’ll be making some home-cooked meals.”
Chan Ho Park, the first Korean-born player to pitch in the Major Leagues found similar luxuries in pitching for the Dodgers. A 2001 National League All Star, Park pitched for Los Angeles from 1994 through 2001. Park’s success opened the door for players form Korea.
“I was only in grade school when Chan Ho Park pitched here, but I remember getting up early to see him pitch on TV,” Ryu. “I lot of my peers are playing baseball and were inspired by Chan Ho Park.”
With the fanfare and big contract, it’s almost time for Ryu to make his Major League debut. He’ll get plenty of encouragement from the Korean community and no doubt enjoy his mom’s cooking. Ryu knows he’ll have to prove himself to make it here.
“I’ve already felt a lot of support from the Korean fans here and now it’s up to me to perform to perform on the big field. It’s time to play baseball.”
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