Ryu Hyun-jin is following in the footsteps of former major league pitcher Park Chan-ho, who inspired him and countless other South Korean kids who dreamed about getting to the big leagues.
Ryu is slated to make his official debut on Tuesday on the same mound where Park threw his first pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers back in 1994.
Park spent 17 seasons in the majors before retiring at the end of the 2010 campaign with a 124-98 record, 4.36 ERA and 1,715 strikeouts. He spent his first eight big league campaigns with Los Angeles, making his official debut with a mop-up ninth inning in Kent Mercker’s no-hitter for the Atlanta Braves at Dodger Stadium, and once gave up two grand slams in one inning by the St Louis Cardinals’ Fernando Tatis.
Now it’s Ryu’s turn to be the darling of the large Korean population in Southern California — without the grand slams.
“I followed his career a pretty good deal,” Ryu said through a translator on Friday before an exhibition game against the Angels.
“I was only in grade school when Chan-ho was pitching, but I do remember waking up in the early mornings just to catch some of the games. He is definitely a role model for me and as lot of my peers in baseball who are a similar age. All of us started playing baseball because we were inspired by Park Chan-ho back in the day,” he said.
The 25-year-old left-hander had a solid spring training, going 2-2 with a 3.29 ERA in six starts and one relief outing. He retired all 12 batters he faced on Thursday night at Angel Stadium, combining with six relievers on a two-hitter. Last Saturday, he held the Chicago White Sox to one hit over seven innings in a 10-4 victory while retiring 17 of his last 18 batters.
“He’s kind of been as advertised to this point,” manager Don Mattingly said. “He’s been pretty good and he’s had a really nice spring. He pitches quick and does everything you want him to do. So as we keep moving forward, I think everybody’s pretty confident this guy knows what he’s doing and he’s ready to go.”
Ryu agreed to a US$36 million, six-year contract with the Dodgers after they bid US$25.7 million to win exclusive rights to negotiate with him. He will become the first player to go directly from the Korean league to the major leagues when he makes his big league debut this week against the World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
Even though he got his first look at Dodger Stadium as a member of the team on Thursday, Ryu is no stranger to Chavez Ravine.
“I remember back in 2009 when I came to this stadium to play two games in the WBC [World Baseball Challenge], and I was just a guest of this ballpark,” he said. “But to come back here and call this my home field, it’s an honor and it feels really good seeing the facility and how great it is, and how it just makes it easier for me to play good baseball.”
“I’ve already felt a lot of support from the local Korean-Americans here, and I think it’s now on me to go out there and perform on the baseball field,” he said. “I’m definitely more confident before the start of the season than the first time I came to camp. My physicality is to the point I’m comfortable with.”