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Slugger hoping to turn back clock in 2nd tour of duty with S. Korean club

All Headlines 15:57 March 22, 2018

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, March 22 (Yonhap) -- In his second tour of duty with the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) club Nexen Heroes, slugger Park Byung-ho says his goal is to once again post video game-like numbers across the board.

Park is back with the Heroes this year, after two seasons in the Minnesota Twins system. He won the KBO's regular season MVP for the Heroes in 2012 and 2013, and led the league in both home runs and RBIs every year from 2012 to 2015. In 2014 and 2015, Park launched 52 and 53 home runs, respectively, becoming the first KBO player ever to post back-to-back 50-homer seasons. In 2015, Park also set a single season record with 146 RBIs.

But Park never was able to match those stats with the Twins and spent the entire 2017 season in Triple-A Rochester before deciding to take his talent back to South Korea.

In this file photo from March 13, 2018, Park Byung-ho of the Nexen Heroes watches his solo home run against the Hanwha Eagles during their Korea Baseball Organization preseason game at Hanwha Life Eagles Park in Daejeon, 160 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

Prior to the KBO's annual media day Thursday, Park said he will try to turn back the clock this year.

"My goal right now is to play the same way I did for this club before I left for America," Park said. "I think I did a pretty good job in the heart of the order. Even though two years have gone past, I would love to have similar performances for our fans. I want to be able to drive in a lot of runs and help the club win ball games."

In Park's absence, the Heroes have moved out of the hitter-friendly Mokdong Stadium in Seoul into a larger Gocheok Sky Dome, also in the nation's capital. They have also gone from the league's best home run-hitting club to being among the leaders in doubles and triples.

Park said playing at the dome certainly felt different during the preseason, both at the plate and on the field, but he should be able to make adjustments.

"I am really just focusing on myself and on my own game," Park said. "I have high expectations for myself."

Park will be part of what should be a lethal lineup. Setting the table for Park will be the 2017 Rookie of the Year Lee Jung-hoo and 2014 MVP Seo Geon-chang, both speedy hitters who can put the ball in play with shocking ease. Outfielder Michael Choice, former big leaguer who belted 17 home runs in just 46 games last year, will bat third, right in front of Park, and shortstop Kim Ha-seong, who has averaged 21 homers over the past three years, will bat fifth.

Park was especially effusive of Lee and Kim.

Park Byung-ho of the Nexen Heroes hits an RBI grounder against the LG Twins during their Korea Baseball Organization preseason game at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on March 20, 2018. (Yonhap)

"Though I've never played with Lee Jung-hoo, his numbers speak for themselves," Park said. "If he can match those stats this year, it will help our club a great deal. He's going to be leading the way for this team for a long time."

As for the shortstop, Park said: "Kim Ha-seong has done a great job batting in the heart of the lineup and playing excellent defense at his position. He's been the pillar of this team after some veteran guys left the team."

And Park said the departure of those older players during his absence has clearly changed the dynamics of the club.

"We may be short on experience as a team, but I think it's going to allow young players to step into the void and mature," Park said. "We're going to try to pick up each other throughout the season."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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