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(LEAD) Nat'l baseball team holds preliminary meeting ahead of World Baseball Classic

All News 13:45 January 11, 2017

(ATTN: ADDS photos)

SEOUL, Jan. 11 (Yonhap) -- Members of the national baseball team held a preliminary meeting Wednesday ahead of the upcoming World Baseball Classic (WBC).

The players and the coaches were briefed by the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) at a Seoul hotel on the upcoming training and competition schedules, and they also got their first close look at the uniform and equipment, including the official tournament ball.

South Korea will host the first round at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, facing Israel, the Netherlands and Chinese Taipei starting on March 6.

Manager Kim In-sik announced his 28-man roster in November, but with the deadline to finalize the team falling on Feb. 6, he has already made a few tweaks owing to injuries and off-field incidents.

Last week, Kim cut Pittsburgh Pirates' infielder Kang Jung-ho following his DUI arrest in December -- his third since 2009 -- while also taking two other injured players off the roster.

Kim is expected to meet with his coaches to discuss further roster changes, including the fate of St. Louis Cardinals' closer Oh Seung-hwan.

Despite recording 19 saves with a 1.92 ERA as a major league rookie last year, Oh has been kept off the team at first because of his own off-field trouble. A South Korean court fined him in January 2016 on illegal overseas gambling charges, and Kim faced huge backlash when he first hinted he would look past Oh's gambling history to pick him.

Members of the South Korean national baseball team gather at a preliminary meeting ahead of the World Baseball Classic in Seoul on Jan. 11, 2017. (Yonhap)

Calls for Oh's inclusion have gained traction recently, however, with the already-thin pitching staff getting decimated by one injury after another.

Kim withheld a decision on Oh last week, saying he would have to speak with his coaches to determine if the team needs a new starter or reliever.

Two other major leaguers on the team, Choo Shin-soo of the Texas Rangers and Kim Hyun-soo of the Baltimore Orioles, are also question marks because of their clubs' reluctance. Manager Kim had said last week he didn't think the two clubs would approve of the players' participation, adding he expected some sort of a decision before the end of January.

The three previous WBC tournaments all opened in early March, with major league clubs in spring training ahead of new seasons. Though Major League Baseball (MLB) organizes the event, its clubs haven't exactly been enthusiastic about releasing their players because of injury concerns.

Choo, 34, missed 114 games last year and had four trips to the disabled list while Kim was a part-time player as a rookie last year and will have to compete for playing time in spring training.

Even if Choo and Kim are allowed to play, they won't be able to join the South Korean camp when it opens in Okinawa, Japan, on Feb. 12. They will have to train with their clubs and report to the national team just before the tournament.

The full national team meeting will be on Feb. 11, on the eve of the Okinawa camp. South Korea will face two Japanese pro clubs, the Yomiuri Giants and the Yokohama DeNa Baystars, in tune-up games on Feb. 19 and 22.

South Korean national baseball team manager Kim In-sik (R) and pitching coach Sun Dong-yol attend the team's preliminary meeting ahead of the World Baseball Classic in Seoul on Jan. 11, 2017. (Yonhap)

South Korea will return home on Feb. 23 and play three more practice games between Feb. 24 and 28, likely against other WBC participants not in the same group as South Korea.

The official WBC practice opens on March 1.

South Korea made it to the semifinals at the inaugural WBC in 2006 and finished runner-up to Japan in 2009, with Kim In-sik at the helm in both years. In 2013, however, South Korea failed to make it out of the preliminary round.


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