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Despite depleted roster S. Korea eyes World Baseball Classic title

All Headlines 15:57 January 15, 2013

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Jan. 15 (Yonhap) -- Despite carrying a roster depleted by injuries, South Korea has set its sights on winning the upcoming World Baseball Classic (WBC), the national team manager and its players said Tuesday.

At a ceremony introducing South Korea's national team members and their new uniform held at a Seoul hotel, Ryu Joong-il, who will manage the squad for the March 2-19 tournament, said the goal is nothing less than to win the country's first WBC title.

"I know that expectations will be high on this team, because we've done so well at the previous WBCs," Ryu said. "If our players put the country ahead of themselves and our veterans and youngsters can come together as a team, then I believe we will post an even better result this time."

Ryu, manager of the Samsung Lions in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), served as team coach at both the inaugural 2006 WBC, when South Korea reached the semifinals, and at the 2009 tournament, when the country finished runner-up to Japan.

In the opening round this year, South Korea will face the Netherlands, Australia and Taiwan in Pool B. All first round contests will be held at Taichung International Baseball Stadium in Taiwan.

South Korea is scheduled to depart for Taiwan on Feb. 12 to open its training camp. The current lineup has 28 players, with 13 pitchers, and the final roster, also with 28 players, will be submitted on Feb. 20, according to the KBO.

South Korea has already had to replace several key players.

Two left-handed pitchers from the KBO, Bong Jung-keun of the LG Twins and Kim Kwang-hyun of the SK Wyverns, are both out with shoulder injuries. Two hard-throwing right-handed relievers, Hong Sang-sam of the Doosan Bears and Kim Jin-woo of the Kia Tigers, will be out of action with a broken ankle and a damaged elbow, respectively.

South Korea's only two Major League Baseball (MLB) players will not be with the national team, citing their commitments to their big league clubs. Left-handed starter Ryu Hyun-jin, who signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers last month, has opted to stay in the U.S. to get ready for his first big league season.

Outfielder Choo Shin-soo was recently traded by the Cleveland Indians to the Cincinnati Reds, and he will also spend the spring preparing for his first season with his new team. Choo will become a free agent after the 2013 season and could command lucrative, multi-year offers depending on his performance in the upcoming season.

Even without those players, Ryu insisted that he doesn't think South Korea will be a weak team and said he has faith in his current group of players to deliver.

First baseman Lee Seung-yeop, one of the senior players on the team and a veteran of the 2006 WBC squad, echoed this sentiment, saying South Korea has always thrived when labeled the underdog.

"At the first two WBCs, our players exceeded expectations," said Lee, who led the 2006 tournament with five home runs and 10 RBI. "Our greatest strength is our teamwork. When people say we're not a strong team, it will only motivate us to play well."

Elsewhere in the opening round, Pool A features Japan, China, Cuba and Brazil. Pool C has Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Spain. Pool D is made up of the U.S., Mexico, Italy and Canada
Pool A teams will play in Fukuoka, Japan. Pool C teams will be in action in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Pool D nations will face each other in Phoenix, Arizona.

South Korea must finish in the top two spots in the first round to advance to the next stage. There, they will be paired with the top two countries from Pool A. Should they advance, their second round matches will be held at the Tokyo Dome from March 8 to 12.

The first two seeds from Pool C and Pool D will square off at Marlins Park, the home of the Miami Marlins of MLB in Florida, from March 12 to 16.

The semifinals and the final will be held at AT&T Park in San Francisco, the home of the 2012 World Series champion, the San Francisco Giants.

South Korea's path to San Francisco will likely include Japan, which won both the 2006 and the 2009 WBCs. In both years, South Korea defeated Japan in earlier rounds only to fall short when it counted the most -- in the 2006 semifinal and the 2009 final.

Veterans of those two tournaments said they'd like to avenge those defeats this year.

"I've played many international events, but the 2006 WBC has stayed with me for a long time," Lee Seung-yeop said, referring to South Korea's 6-0 loss to Japan. "It gnaws at me to this day that we couldn't reach the final then because we lost to Japan. I don't want to go through the same pains again this year."

The 2009 final was decided in extra innings, with Japan prevailing 5-3. Second baseman Jeong Keun-woo struck out against the Japanese ace Yu Darvish to end the game, and Jeong on Tuesday said he wants to make sure it will not happen again.

"I don't have fond memories of the 2009 WBC," Jeong said. "This time, I want to end it on a better note, and plant our national flag on the mound when we clinch the championship."

The new national team uniform was also unveiled Tuesday. The players will wear V-neck, pullover tops and white pants, designed in the traditional national team colors of blue and white. The no-button look is meant to prevent players from getting chafed or cut when they slide head-first into bases, according to the uniform manufacturer, Nike.

Made with high-tech materials, the top of this uniform is 17 percent lighter, and the pants are 51 percent lighter than the 2009 WBC uniforms, Nike said.

The home jersey will have a white top and pants, and the away uniform will have a blue top and white pants.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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