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(Yonhap Interview) Twins showing much faith in Park Byung-ho: interpreter

All Headlines 10:02 February 29, 2016

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Feb. 29 (Yonhap) -- As an interpreter for the Minnesota Twins' Park Byung-ho, Kim Jeong-deok has been afforded an up close and personal view of the South Korean player's new life in the United States.

And as far as Kim can tell, the former MVP-winning slugger in the South Korean league has already earned the trust of the Twins' brass.

"As important as it is for Park to have success in Major League Baseball (MLB) representing Asia and Korea, the Twins also believe that Park could become a well-respected member of the team," Kim told Yonhap News Agency in a recent email interview, recounting his meeting with the club's executives in Fort Myers, Florida, the site of the Twins' spring training.

"I could tell the Twins had a strong conviction and faith in Park," Kim added. "I guess my job is to find the things that I need to do to help Park become the kind of player and person that the Twins are counting on him to be."

Kim, 35, is no stranger to baseball or to working with players making a living in a new country. He previously worked in the front offices for two clubs in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), first the LG Twins from 2009 to 2012 and then the NC Dinos from 2013 to 2015. It was while with LG that Kim first met Park, who played for that club from 2005 to 2010.

Though he interpreted for foreign players on those two clubs, Kim did much more in the front office. Working in baseball operations, Kim handled international affairs and also scheduled and organized offseason training camps for the teams, among other responsibilities.

And while with the Dinos, Kim also produced a manual on how to work with foreign players. The Dinos, which only joined the KBO in 2013, have made the postseason in each of the past two years, thanks in large part to impressive production from their foreign contingent. First baseman Eric Thames was voted the league MVP last season after enjoying the KBO's first-ever 40-40 season.

Kim, who attended middle school and high school in the United States, has never played baseball. He'd only been a casual fan of the game until he started working in the KBO, and he actually grew to love the sport.

The Twins' first full workout took place Saturday, but Park, who belted a career-high 53 home runs last year for the Nexen Heroes in the KBO, had been training on his own from early morning to around lunch time since the start of the month. Kim has been following the player to practice and helping Park run errands in the afternoon.

"Once spring training gets under way, we'll be playing preseason games before we know it," Kim said of the upcoming days. "So I expect to get busier myself. We get one day off during the camp."

At least in South Korea, Park has proven himself on the field. He is the first KBO player to lead the league in home runs and RBIs in four consecutive seasons -- doing so from 2012 to 2015 -- and also the first to hit 50 or more home runs in back-to-back seasons, with 52 in 2014 and 53 last year. He was the MVP in 2012 and 2013, and finished second in the voting the next two years. Park has raised his home run and RBI totals in each of those four dominant seasons.

Off the field, Park has been known as a consummate professional with a strong work ethic, someone who exudes a quiet confidence about himself. The thoughtful and articulate one has also been among South Korean writers' favorite players to interview.

Though Park had never lived abroad until signing with the Twins, he hardly shied away from chatting up his Nexen teammates from overseas. And Kim said Park has the qualities to make a seamless transition to his new surroundings.

"As you could tell from his interviews back home, Park is well-spoken and has a way with words," Kim noted. "He can actually communicate rather well with teammates and coaches. Unless it's an important situation where there's no room for errors (in communication), I let Park speak and help him when it's necessary. He has taken a great interest in American culture, and I think he can adjust to life here without difficulties."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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