“I’m going to have to turn in my flag.”
It was the middle of a summer that was going nowhere. Kim Joo-won (21, NC Dinos)스포츠토토 was taking a break in the dugout after batting practice when he said, “I should return the flag.” He didn’t mean it. He didn’t mean it. He said it out of frustration that he had been selected to represent the United States at the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games and wanted to spend the time leading up to the event in good form to prove his worth. Kim struggled in June, batting just .200 (13-for-65) and .191 (9-for-47) in July.
Kim naturally fell behind in the competition for the starting shortstop position on the national team. Park Sung-seong (25, SSG Landers), who had been hitting much better for his club, won the starting shortstop job first. Park was batting .270 with 47 RBIs in 123 regular-season games, while Kim was batting .229 with 51 RBIs in 120 games. When it came to defensive stability, Park had the edge.
However, the tables have turned since the tournament began. After going 1-for-2 with a walk and an RBI in the first game against Hong Kong on Aug. 1 and 0-for-3 in the second game against Chinese Taipei on Aug. 2, Park was dropped from the starting lineup. Kim Joo-won went 1-for-3 with a home run, one RBI and two runs scored in the final group game against Thailand on March 3. With Noh Si-hwan, Kang Baek-ho, and Moon Bo-kyung not exploding in the center field at the time, Kim’s home run machine gave South Korean coach Ryu Jung-il no choice but to trust his instincts and keep him in the lineup. Naturally, Park Sung-hwan was pushed to the bench.
Kim started at shortstop in both Super Round games and was tasked with sparking the bottom of the order. He went 1-for-3 with a home run in a 2-0 win over Japan on Friday, and then went 2-for-4 with a home run, a walk, two RBIs and a run scored in an 8-1 victory over China on Saturday, including the game-winning two-run shot. South Korea leads the tournament with five home runs as of June 6, with Kim hitting two, the most on the team.
Kim Joo-won was a promising prospect who graduated from Yushin High School and joined NC in the second round of the 2021 rookie draft. The team identified him as their next starting shortstop and gave him plenty of opportunities early on, giving him a platform to grow quickly. On the surface, Kim appears to be more of a contact hitter, but he’s also a one-hit wonder, hitting 10 home runs for the second straight season last year and this year. That means he has the power to hit the ball over the fence.
Kim was unsure of herself before the tournament, but she took advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves during the tournament and made the leap to the starting shortstop position on the national team. He and his teammates will look to defeat Chinese Taipei in the final to win the gold medal.
South Korea won three consecutive gold medals in Guangzhou in 2010, Incheon in 2014, and Jakarta-Palembang in 2018. While the previous three tournaments featured the most elite members of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO), this time around, the team will be made up of prospects under the age of 24 or in their third year of professional play. Furthermore, with Lee Jung-hoo, Koo Chang-mo, and Lee Yi-ri sidelined with injuries, the team was considered the weakest ever, but still managed to secure a silver medal, proving the power of young players.
South Korea was thrashed 0-4 by Chinese Taipei in the group stage. In the final stage, they will have a last-minute smile on their faces as they complete the upset against Chinese Taipei.