[이데일리 스타in 이석무 기자] The goal of winning was not achieved. They were unable to break their losing streak against Japan. Still, Korean baseball has confirmed that its future is not dark at all.
The Korean baseball team, led by coach Ryu Joong-il, took second place by losing 3-4 after a close match that went into overtime against the ‘world’s best’ Japan in the finals of the Asian Professional Baseball Championship (APBC) 2023 held at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan on the 19th. .
Although they missed out on the championship, the income that Korean baseball gained through this tournament is significant. The APBC competition is open to players under 24 years of age or under 3 years of professional experience. Up to three wild cards under the age of 29 can be included here.
Japan, which had a national team made up of professional baseball players at last month’s Hangzhou Asian Games, brought to the forefront professional prospects who are attracting attention in this year’s APBC tournament. The team’s strength was incomparable to that of the Hangzhou Asian Games.
Korea faced Japan twice in the preliminaries and finals and lost by 1 point in both matches. They narrowly lost 1-2 in the second round of the preliminary round, and 3-4 in the final after a fierce overtime battle. Neither of the two games were lost to Japan. The battle continued until the very last moment. Although I didn’t win right away, it was enough to give me confidence that it would be worth a try in the future.
In particular, Japan, Taiwan, and Australia, who participated in this tournament, used all three wild cards. Japanese starting pitcher Tatsuya Imai (Seibu Lions), starting pitcher Shogo Sakakura (Hiroshima Toyo Carp), and closer Kazuto Taguchi (Yakult Swallows), who played in the final against Korea, are all wild card players.
On the other hand, Korea minimized the use of wild cards to allow young players to gain international experience. 26-year-old center fielder Choi Ji-hoon (SSG Landers) was the only wild card. Even though most of them were young players in their early 20s, they fought on equal footing with Japan, which had all of its wild cards.
The performance of the members who won the gold medal at the Hangzhou Asian Games shone again this time. Moon Dong-joo (Hanwha Eagles) pitched well in the first game of the preliminary round against Australia, allowing 5 hits (1 home run) and 2 runs in 5⅔ innings, and Won Tae-in (Samsung Lions) became the winning pitcher in the game against Chinese Taipei on the way to the finals, allowing 3 hits and 1 run in 5 innings. ) clearly showed potential as an international ace.
Kwak Bin (Doosan Bears), who could not play a single game in the Asian Games due to phlegm symptoms, also put away his disappointment in Hangzhou by pitching against Japan in the finals, allowing 5 hits (1 home run), 3 walks, 6 strikeouts, and 1 run in 5 innings.
In the batting lineup, it was a great achievement to discover a clear ‘4th hitter for the national team’ named Noh Si-hwan (Hanwha). Noh Si-hwan produced hits for four days in a row, playing the role of a hitter with 7 hits in 18 at-bats, a batting average of .389, and 4 RBIs.
Kim Hye-seong (Kiwoom Heroes), who took on the important role of captain for two consecutive competitions, was responsible for the leadoff role and showed great leadership in leading young players both on and off the field. Catcher Kim Hyeong-jun proved that he deserves to be the next generation home manager with stable defense and smart pitching lead. Shortstop Kim Joo-won (NC Dinos) has proven to be a leading player in continuing the lineage of Korean baseball shortstops.
Although he did not participate in the Hangzhou Asian Games, left-handed fastball pitcher Eui-ri Lee (KIA Tigers) raised expectations as the national team’s next-generation left-handed ace by pitching well in the second game of the preliminary round against Japan, allowing 6 hits, 3 walks, and 2 runs in 6 innings.
Hae-young Jeong (KIA), Seung-yong Choi (Doosan), and Jun-yong Choi (Lotte Giants), who were in charge of the bullpen, were not intimidated even in international competitions and threw the balls with the power they showed in the KBO League to their heart’s content. Together with ‘Hangzhou members’ Choi Ji-min (KIA) and Kim Young-gyu (NC), he took full responsibility for the back door. Kim Hwi-jip (Kiwoom), who hit a solo home run in the preliminary game against Japan, also showed potential as an international hitter.
Korean baseball, which found hope through the gold medal at the Hangzhou Asian Games and the runner-up finish at the APBC Tournament, is expected to be able to accelerate the generational change with more confidence.
Starting now is important for Korean baseball to regain its past glory and begin a renaissance again. In order for Korean baseball to increase its international competitiveness, the level of the KBO league and youth baseball must be raised.
From the national team perspective, the national team full-time manager system needs to take root as soon as possible. The KBO Secretariat announced the ‘Team Korea Level Up Project’ last July and decided to operate a full-time manager system that can lead the national team long-term and consistently.
Currently, coach Ryu Joong-il, who successfully led the national team in the Hangzhou Asian Games and the APBC Tournament, is being considered as a strong candidate for the national team’s full-time coach.
Coach Ryu Joong-il also said after the final against Japan, “When I return to Korea, I will analyze Japanese baseball more to find a strategy,” and “I will do my best to play better in the Premier 12 (next year).” He did not hide his strong will and affection.
In order for Korean baseball to maintain its international competitiveness, it is necessary to establish a permanent national team and promote international exchange events. In the case of Japan, which has established itself as the world’s strongest team through the WBC, it operates a national team during the season and holds international evaluation matches like soccer A matches.
Of course, it is not easy to play national competitions during the regular season because each country’s league schedule is different. However, if an evaluation match is promoted using the period before and after the regular season, it is expected to help young national team players gain experience in international competitions.