By Kim Hyun-sung
My favorite baseball memory is Chan-ho Park’s first stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Back in 1994, a Korean newspaper had a report on a Korean pitcher who may have a chance to play in the big leagues. At that time, I was an elementary school student in New Jersey, in my third year of watching Major League Baseball. I did start out with Korean baseball when it was dark, when grown men were the only spectators at the stadiums.
Korea was pretty much an unknown place to the post-Korean War generation in the United States, and people knew I was Korean by having been told after running out of options asking whether I am Chinese or Japanese. The man at the baseball card shop sold me a Chan-ho Park card at one-tenth of its original price after saying, “I have this (*pause*) Asian guy. I don’t need it. Maybe you need it.”
Almost half way around the globe, Major League Baseball was an unexplored territory here in the “Hermit Kingdom.” The only games televised here were shown through the American Forces Network on Saturday and Tuesday mornings when everyone was at work (back then Koreans worked six days a week!).
Because of Chan-ho Park, a Korean broadcasting company began to feed Dodgers games to the public hoping for him to make an appearance. This was how Korean MLB fans were created. Park began starting games in 1996, and had the public hooked on to his games. And, by the next year, he was pitching full time in the rotation putting up numbers like 14-8, 3.38 ERA, 166 K and 15-9, 3.71 ERA, 191 K.
This was when Korea suffered an economic crisis. The bubble had burst in Asia. Many fathers lied to their wives that they were off to work, when actually they had nowhere to go. People who ran their own business fled town unable to pay the debt they had created after their company went down. The price of won plummeted, causing students studying overseas to return. Opportunities became thin and moral was down. Korea received loans from the IMF (International Monetary Fund), and IMF, to Koreans, means 1998, the year in which the government admitted they were in crisis.
However, all eyes were on Park. People gathered wherever there was a television. Companies had his games on during work hours. Students, like myself back then, brought portable radios to class with black earphones when Park had a start, thinking the teachers would not notice us listening to the games. Those with radios relayed play-by-play to the rest through paper notes like MLB.com’s Gameday.
Park’s journey through the Majors was somewhat of an underdog story. A player who overcame the language barrier, stereotypes of being an Asian, and hardships of living abroad to become a quality pitcher. People gained the hope and determination to resurrect from the economic deficit as Park set himself as an example.
Although his days after the Dodgers were not so successful, the Korean people consider him a hero until this very day. Which brings me to think baseball is a sport that keeps the dreams and hopes alive. And, it is wonderful to see that dreams and hopes will be kept alive through this meaningful blogathon organized by Baseball de World.
#Blogathon Guest Post
This post was contributed by a guest for our #Blogathon. You can find more information about the author within the actual post. We'd like to thank everyone who contributed in our effort to raise money for The V Foundation.