South Korea’s first independent baseball team started playing this year. The Goyang Wonders are playing in the Korea Futures League. Each of the other teams are either affiliated with one of the KBO teams or the police/military. On the roster of the Wonders is Stephen Yoo. Yoo was born in the States. He has played with two of the top Division I collegiate teams in USC and TCU, and he has spent some time in the independent leagues in the States. Stephen was kind enough to take a minute and answer some questions for us about playing in Korea.
First of all, how has your baseball experience been so far in Korea?
It’s been interesting. There’s a lot of things that I expected and a lot of things that didn’t expect. But for the most part, it has been very positive and I know I’m gonna get a lot of good things out of it.
You played for two top collegiate programs in USC and TCU. Back then did you ever think you would be playing baseball in South Korea?
Not really. Coming from two top programs, you would figure I would get my opportunity in the US. My dad is a huge baseball fan and he always told me to keep an open mind and just to expect the unexpected. I always thought I would play in the US and finish my career there. But being in Korea has made me more open-minded and a much better player.
You’ve had a few stints in the American independent leagues prior to making the move to Korea. How does this independent league compare to those in the States?
Well it is very very different. I was very fortunate to play for some really good independent teams/leagues but also for some great/popular managers. Independent baseball has such a wide range of talent and so does Korean baseball. Korean basebal alsol has different values and strategically plays a different game compared to the US. So in general, it has a lot of differences but the same entertainment. The fans seem to enjoy it! Haha.
How is your Korean? Is communication an issue at all, especially with you being a catcher?
I’m fluent in Korea. That’s part of the reason why a lot of people around me and including myself thought it could be a great opportunity to play in Korea. I don’t have a language barrier and especially being a catcher, I feel like that’s an enormous advantage.
You are playing for the only independent team in Korea, the Goyang Wonders. How has the reception been for the new team?
It’s been interesting to say the least. My teammates treat me the same but differently at the same time since I grew up in the US. But since I’m so fluent they don’t really perceive me any differently. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to interact with the fans as much. But from the few that I have interacted with, they have been great!
Your parents are Korean by birth but you were born in the States. Had you visited Korea prior to this year? How do you like living in Korea?
I used to visit often when I was younger. But prior to baseball, I haven’t been here for about 8-9 years due to college and pro baseball. I’ve always enjoyed Korea and all that it has to offer. I really enjoy it.
I have read in other articles that you are hoping to get the rules changed to allow foreign-born players of Korean lineage to be considered “Koreans” for the purpose of the draft. It was not passed this winter. Is there any hope that the issue will be discussed this coming winter?
I hope they do. From the info I got, they will try again this upcoming winter. The main reason I came to the Goyang Wonders is to show the other teams and the league that an American born Korean player can come here and adapt to the Korean culture and play. Hopefully my attendance and performance will help the league reconsider my eligibility.
How long do you hope to play in Korea?
As long as I can. I enjoy it here and I would play here as long as a team offers me a contract.
When your playing days are done, do you hope to get into coaching either here in Korea or in the States?
Haven’t quite thought about the coaching aspect quite yet. But if the opportunity comes, I would definitely consider it. Coaching in either Korea or the States would be a priviledge.
I’d like to thank Stephen for taking the time to answer a few questions. We here at Baseball de World wish him the best of luck this season. You can follow Stephen as he plays in Korea on Twitter, @38StephenYoo.
Eric Bynum is Managing Editor here at BaseballdeWorld. He spent three years as an ESL teacher in South Korea, and is now working on his master's degree in history with a focus on baseball and WWII. He has played and/or written about baseball for the past 30 years and is an avid Atlanta Braves fan.