Now that Jung Ho Kang is on their roster, every Pirates regular season game and also a few spring training games this year will be televised in South Korea. “Because of the time difference (Korea is 14 hours ahead of Pittsburgh), most people will be watching at their desks at work,” said Daniel Kim, a baseball analyst for Spotv Korea. I chatted with Kim this morning for his Yahoo! Sports podcast and gave me some background this morning about the Pirates’ new infielder.
— Kang is the fourth MLB player to come out of Gwangju Jeil high school. The others are Jae Weong Seo (2002-07 with Mets, Dodgers and Rays), Hee Seop Choi (2002-05 with Cubs, Marlins and Dodgers) and Byung-Hyun Kim (1999-2007 with D’backs, Red Sox, Rockies and Marlins). Kang was drafted out of high school by Hyundai of the Korea Baseball Organization. A second-round pick, Kang had to choose to either turn pro or accept a full university scholarship. “His parents left the decision up to him,” Kim said. “He was very mature for his age, so they said they’d support whatever he decided to do.”
— Kang played in a total of only 30 games with Hyundai in 2006-07. “He didn’t have a regular position,” Kim said. “It took him a while to establish himself at the top level (of the KBO).” Kang was drafted as a catcher, but he had the strongest arm on the team so the Hyundai manager moved him to shortstop.
— Kang’s breakthrough moment came in the championship of the 2010 Asian Games, when he slugged a pair of two-run homers against defending champ Taiwan. “That’s when Kang became a national star,” Kim said. Last September, Kang again homered twice against Taiwan in the Asian Games.
— Kang is close friends with Dodgers pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu — they played on the same Junior National team in 2005, are the same age and were drafted in the KBO in the same year. They also were teammates on the 2010 Asian Games team. Kang homered in Ryu’s final KBO game before joining the Dodgers. “That was his parting gift to Ryu,” Kim said with a laugh. “They still talk about it.”
— About three years ago, Kang’s father supposedly told his son he’d play in MLB someday. Kang, however, kept quiet about wanting to play in the United States until last year. A team source told me the Pirates have had their eye on Kang the past three or four years in case he decided to enter the posting process. Not wanting to tip their hand to other clubs, the Pirates hid their interest in Kang until their winning bid was announced.