By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Dec. 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korean outfielder Kim Hyun-soo has returned home after a largely unsuccessful stint in Major League Baseball (MLB), but the 29-year-old hasn't entirely given up on his big league dreams.
Kim recently signed a four-year deal worth 11.5 billion won (US$10.7 million) with the LG Twins in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) and was formally introduced by the Seoul-based club on Thursday.
He split the past two seasons with the Baltimore Orioles and the Philadelphia Phillies, batting .273 with seven home runs and 36 RBIs in 191 games. And Kim's two-year major league deal expired to little fanfare, as no MLB team came calling for the service of a soon-to-be 30-year-old outfielder with limited upside.
Still, at his introductory press conference in Seoul on Thursday, Kim didn't rule out the possibility that he'll take another crack at the MLB.
Asked if he will pursue a big league deal after his latest contract ends, Kim said, "If an opportunity presents itself, I'll do the best I can."
For the time being, Kim's immediate focus will be on helping the Twins return to the promised land. Despite leading the KBO in ERA with 4.30, the Twins missed the postseason as the anemic offense ranked at or near the bottom in major categories, including batting average, runs scored and home runs.
A career .318 hitter in 10 seasons for the Doosan Bears, Kim also has some pop, with three 20-homer seasons while playing his home games at Seoul's Jamsil Stadium, the league's largest ballpark. The Twins share Jamsil as their home, and they hope Kim will match the success he's had there so far.
And Kim said he's ready to put lessons he's learned from MLB into practice.
"I learned so much during my time there, and the biggest lesson is that I realized the importance of routines," Kim said. "I thought I had built a solid routine myself, but it was nothing compared to what the big leaguers were doing. I thought players who stuck to their routines were always able to get out of their slumps quickly."
Kim also said he marveled at how well his major league teammates took care of their bodies.
"Everyone had his own way of staying in shape for the entire year," Kim added. "When it comes to practice, it wasn't as much about quantity as it was about quality."
One other thing Kim learned -- and something that he might have taken for granted in the past -- is the simple joy of playing baseball.
Kim played in 95 games as a rookie in 2016, and barely saw any action in the first several weeks of the season. The tune didn't change much in 2017, as the Orioles had a surplus of outfielders and Kim couldn't crack the lineup.
He got traded to the Phillies, perhaps the worst club he could have ended up on, as far as his big league future was concerned. The Phillies were in a rebuilding mode and had young outfielders who were getting a chance to play, which forced Kim to the bench most of the time.
He appeared in 96 games in total in 2017, just one more than in 2016.
"I realized just how fun it is to be playing baseball," Kim said. "I watched so much baseball from the bench, and now, I just want to play the game. I've made the decision to come here so that I could actually play some ball."
Kim's lack of playing opportunities gave South Korean fans some ammunition to take shots at Orioles' manager Buck Showalter and the team's front office. When asked if he felt he got enough chance to play, Kim tiptoed around the issue.
"I went over there (to the U.S.) thinking I'd receive more opportunities than I ended up getting," he said. "Personally, I don't think I had enough chance. But again, I didn't play well when I did have my opportunity. So it's on me."
Kim said he now understands that confidence or hard work alone won't cut it in professional baseball. He doesn't just want to be a player who tries hard; he wants to be a great player, period.
"Baseball is a team sport, but if each and every individual does his part, then we get to have a great team," Kim said. "I think it's important for every player on our team to have that mindset."
Kim, a native of Seoul, said he grew up a Twins fan, and he once dreamed of playing together with a couple of LG veterans, designated hitter Park Yong-taik and reliever Lee Dong-hyun.
"I am most excited about playing with those two guys," Kim said. "I've been training hard on my own for a while, but I am still not where I want to be. It's been a while since I faced live pitching, and there's still plenty of work to be done. Once I get to that point, I should be able to set concrete goals for next year."
Kim's deal is the second-largest free agent deal ever in the KBO. He said he was so grateful for the offer and even wondered if he deserved that kind of money.
"I don't know if I'll ever be able to live up to this contract just with performance," Kim said. "I think I'll have to be a role model and an exemplary figure in every aspect of the game. I want people to say the Twins made the right decision in signing me."
Kim became emotional on a few occasions during his press conference, as he choked back tears whenever the talk turned to his connection with the Bears.
It's a team that signed him as an undrafted free agent out of high school, and the only KBO team Kim had known until this week.
"I wish I'd done more in the U.S., and I'd like to thank Doosan fans for supporting me all these years," Kim said as he wiped away tears. "I also want to thank the Bears organization for making me the player that I am today."
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