By Aaron Tassano
I first met Lim in Suwon. I was scouting, he was chasing foul balls in the stands. His reads off the bat put him ahead of a good number of the players, and he was working from angles that were much more difficult than left, center and right.
By the end of the day Lim had close to 20 balls. Sure, the place was empty save small clusters of parents and random jobless men hiding in the rafters chains-smoking. But the stadium, built in the late 1970s, was a deathtrap of steel rails, and rows of seats that abruptly ended at five foot drops. Unattended children and drunken men alike, both of whom seemed to lack general experience of physical pain, hurled their bodies into harm’s way with abandon.
Lim was a little off. For one, he was a Korean in his mid-30s whose primary occupation was chasing foul balls. “No job,” he told me, waiving his arm in front of my face. Lim insisted on speaking English to me, even if I spoke Korean to him. “I catch ball. Only ball.”
I wasn’t clear on why Lim was the way he was. Mental illness was a possibility. “No military,” he told me, pointing to his head. “No good. Think no good.” I also wondered if Soju intake had left him with imperfect mental faculties. Smoking two packs a day indicated that was feasible. An ex-con shunned by Korean society? Lim seemed way too nice.
As it turned out Lim had been a computer programmer in another life. “Too much work,” he explained later, “80 hour one week. Can’t sleep. No sleep two weeks.”
I wasn’t the only person who noticed Lim’s talents. The Korean high school player’s association, in charge of things like ticketing and the groundscrew, gave Lim a job as a ballboy. It was a perfect match. He’d perch himself like a vulture near the on-deck circle, hunting down whatever foul balls didn’t find the stands, just as he’d done so impressively as a spectator. Lim had a quick first step. His jumps were always plus even if his ball handling skills left something to be desired — Lim had long, thin fingers; dry and cracked from years of smoking and general lack of care.
But there was no doubt about it — Lim got the job done. And even better, he fed me information. What better source than someone sitting next to the dugout during the game?
“Was that a splitter?” I’d text him.
“Player say no split. Just changeup.”
“Always was pitcher?”
“He say catch middle school.”
Lim and I became friends, in a sense. Occasionally after games I’d buy him dinner. He told me his father was sick. The job as a ballboy didn’t pay well and there was little possibility for advancement. I think part of him was hoping I’d be able to pay him for the information he was giving me. I really wish I could have.
One day I showed up at the park and there was a different ballboy. I texted Lim: “where r u?”
“No more ball. Only job”
And that was it. Lim had re-entered the Korean workforce. There was little point in trying to maintain contact, but in good faith I wrote him back. “When see again?”
But there was no reply.
Aaron Tassano is an international scout based in South Korea.
#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.