That’s what Ryu Jung-il, the head coach of the South Korean national baseball team, said before the team faced Japan in the second round of the Asian Professional Baseball Championship (APBC) 2023 qualifiers at the Tokyo Dome in Japan on Sunday. The game will be played in enemy territory, and the large number of Japanese fans in attendance could put a lot of pressure on the players, but the coach wants them to grow under adverse conditions.
In the tournament, which is only open to players aged 24 or younger (born on or after Jan. 1, 1999) or within their third year as a professional (born after 2021) (three wild cards are available for players born on or after Jan. 1, 1994), Ryu Joong-il, who took the helm of the national team, was more serious about his players’ development than anyone else. He emphasized growth over immediate results and led a generational change in Korean baseball at the APBC.토토사이트
South Korean baseball has been on the verge of a clear crisis recently. The team suffered back-to-back first-round exits at the 2013 and 2017 World Baseball Classic (WBC), and finished fourth at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
A desperate Korean baseball team looked to bounce back at the 2023 WBC earlier this year, but after a tough 4-13 loss to Japan, the team had to accept a bitter first-round exit for the third straight tournament.
Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) then turned to a generational change in the national team. It started with the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games, and the baton was handed to Ryu Jung-il.
Despite being labeled the weakest team in history due to its own age limit, Ryu was undeterred. He led South Korea to victory at the Asian Games, a tournament that required both player development and performance. They were thrashed 0-4 by Chinese Taipei in the group stage, but it’s important to note that they had an all-star lineup and that their starter, Lin Yumin, was developed in the minors by the Arizona Diamondbacks of Major League Baseball (MLB). In the final, he was able to capitalize on Lin Yumin to take a 2-0 lead.
Coach Ryu Jung-il led his team to victory at the Asian Games. Photo by Kim Young-gu
At the APBC, Ryu remained at the helm of the national team and helped the players grow, especially since he wanted the APBC to focus on growth rather than performance. A good example is the decision not to use Moon Dong-ju (Hanwha Eagles) in the bullpen for the final against Japan.
Moon, who made his professional debut in the 2022 season, is a right-hander with a fastball that touches 160km/h. In 36 games (147.1 innings) so far this year, he has posted a 9-11 record with a 4.09 ERA, including a 5.2 inning, one-hit shutout with four walks and five strikeouts in South Korea’s 3-2 win over Australia in the first game of the APBC Qualifier.
South Korea, runners-up in the previous edition of the tournament, the APBC 2017, could have moved one step closer to their first title if the hard-throwing Moon Dong-ju had been added to the bullpen, but the manager was adamant. When asked before the game, Ryu Jung-il threw up his hands in the air and said, “That’s ridiculous,” before adding, “When I first started this tournament, it was for the young players to improve their skills. Personally, I don’t want them to think about their performance. I want to play a variety of players, but there’s always talk about performance.”
Ryu added, “I want the players to feel a lot. I want them to see the pattern of how Japanese players come to the mound, what kind of pitches they use to get strikes and walks. Japanese pitchers have good overall pitches. They have good fastballs, good changeups, and good breaking balls.” “It’s great for our players to see that and learn from it. I hope the younger players will improve their skills by playing more tournaments like this. I hope it will be an opportunity for Korean baseball to go up.”
Despite finishing as runners-up, the team showed great improvement in Tokyo under the full faith of their coach. First, Moon Dong-ju, Lee Yi-ri (KIA Tigers – 6 innings, 6 hits, 1 home run, 3 walks, 3 strikeouts, 2 runs), Won Tae-in (Samsung Lions – 5 innings, 3 hits, 1 home run, 5 strikeouts, 1 run), and Kwak Bin (Doosan Bears – 5 innings, 5 hits, 1 home run, 3 walks, 6 strikeouts, 1 run), who started against Australia, Japan, Taiwan, and Japan in the preliminary round, respectively, established themselves as international starters.
The bullpen has also been outstanding. Kim Young-gyu (NC Dinos), Choi Seung-yong (Doosan), Choi Jun-yong (Lotte Giants), Choi Ji-min, and Jung Hae-young (KIA Tigers) combined for 15 innings of three-run ball and two earned runs in the tournament.
While there is an obvious need for more long balls, the development of the pitching staff was also highlighted. The ‘NC Duo’ Kim Joo-won and Kim Hyung-joon have developed into the national team’s starting shortstop and catcher, respectively, with sharper hitting and steadier defense, while Noh Si-hwan (Hanwha) swung the bat and played well in the center field despite a lot of pressure. In addition, captain Kim Hye-sung (Kiwoom Heroes) provided excellent leadership and helped set the tone for the team.
After applauding the team’s progress, Ryu applauded the players and left them with another task. That is, to take good care of their bodies during the November-December period.
After the final game against Japan ended in a 3-4 loss, Ryu said, “I thought the gap between Japanese baseball and Korean baseball had widened, but after this tournament, I think we can play on equal footing if we work a little harder and stick to the basics.” “I went to the Softbank (Hawks) camp in Miyazaki in the past. They have a practice on February 1, and the pitchers throw more than 140 kilometers and the hitters have been building their bodies to hit home runs. Japan has good weather, so they can play baseball all year round, but we can’t do that because it’s cold, but I told them not to take a break in December and January and to build their bodies by doing the training that they can do at that time.”
Having seen a bright future through the APBC, Korea Baseball now plans to accelerate its efforts to improve its international competitiveness by implementing a full-time head coach and organizing trials against other national teams. Ryu Jung-il, who showed his abilities at the Asian Games and the APBC, is considered to be the top candidate for a full-time head coach.