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MVP-winning pitcher always about team, not personal glory

All Headlines 16:49 November 14, 2016

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Nov. 14 (Yonhap) -- American pitcher Dustin Nippert captured the highest individual honors in South Korean baseball Monday, but the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) MVP insisted it has always been about the team, not his personal glory.

The Doosan Bears' right-hander earned 642 out of 816 possible points to collect his first MVP trophy, and beat Samsung Lions' outfielder Choi Hyoung-woo by 112 points. Nippert garnered 62 first-place votes, each worth eight points, compared to Choi's 35.

This was on the strength of a 22-3 record and a 2.95 ERA. He led the KBO in both wins and ERA, and was the leader of the league's best starting rotation.

Nippert, Michael Bowden, Chang Won-jun and Yoo Hee-kwan all won at least 15 games, making the Bears the first KBO club with that many 15-game winners. And thanks in large part to such strong pitching, the Bears ran away with the pennant and captured their second straight Korean Series in 2016.

Nippert, a former Arizona Diamondback draft pick who has been pitching in the KBO since 2011, said he didn't expect to beat Choi and other hitters for the award after a league-wide offensive explosion, and credited his teammates with helping him post great numbers.

"Honestly, I am surprised, especially with other players that were nominated for this award," he said. "You don't hear of a starting pitcher being MVP a lot. I am very fortunate because my teammates are awesome. They scored a lot of runs and played great defense behind me. For me to win this award has a lot to do with them."

Dustin Nippert of the Doosan Bears smiles after accepting the Korea Baseball Organization MVP trophy at a ceremony in Seoul on Nov. 14, 2016. (Yonhap)

His voice cracking after accepting the trophy, Nippert added, "I just think (these tears) are for my teammates."

Nippert, 35, said he feels blessed to "play a game for a living" and he wants to savor every moment.

"I am not sure how many times I am going to be in a situation like this, to be on such a great team that I was on," he said. "I know my days are limited as a baseball player. This season has been amazing. We accomplished a lot of things and meshed together really well."

Nippert in particular thanked his catcher Yang Eui-ji for his work. Yang is widely considered the KBO's best two-way catcher, famous both for his offensive production and his work with pitchers behind the plate.

"He's part of the reason that I've been successful," Nippert said. "We clicked and bonded really well in my first year here. We pitchers are only as good as our catchers. I think he should be getting the trophy."

Nippert, who has also played for the Texas Rangers, came close to signing with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan before arriving in the KBO.

He thanked both the Bears and the KBO for giving him the opportunity to keep playing well into his 30s.

"If you'd told me that I would be here for six years, I would have told you no," he said. "My teammates have done everything they can for me to be successful, and my career was resurrected here. I'm thankful to Doosan and the KBO for giving me this opportunity and hopefully it won't end any time soon. If I had been on another team, I am not sure how it would have gone."

Nippert said at the beginning of the season, he tried to remind his teammates how difficult it was going to be to defend their Korean Series title, and said he's grateful for how they responded.

"I didn't want them to think that just because we won last year, it was going to be easy this year," he said. "We were the best team this year from the beginning to the end. It's a testament to our work ethic, and how well everyone bonds together. I am just very proud of them."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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