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Former KBO slugger to extend playing career in Australia

Sports 15:38 November 20, 2018

SEOUL, Nov. 20 (Yonhap) -- After getting released by a South Korean baseball club last month, slugger Choi Joon-suk has found a lifeline in Australia.

Choi will join Geelong Korea, the new entry in the Australian Baseball League (ABL) this season, for the team's four-game series against the Melbourne Aces starting Nov. 29, Geelong Korea officials said Tuesday.

Geelong Korea lost their first four matches against the Sydney Blue Sox last week. They will try to get their inaugural W in a four-game set against the Perth Heat starting this Thursday, before Choi and two other former Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) players, outfielder Woo Dong-gyun and pitcher Heo Geon-yeop, join them next week.

Choi, 35, is three years removed from his best offensive season, when he hit 31 homers and drove in 109 runs for the Lotte Giants.

In this file photo from March 14, 2018, Choi Joon-suk, then with the NC Dinos, gets a base hit against the SK Wyverns in the bottom of the ninth inning of a Korea Baseball Organization preseason game at Masan Stadium in Changwon, 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)

After two more years with the Giants, Choi became a free agent but couldn't find a team until the NC Dinos inked him to a one-year deal in February, about a month before the start of the season.

Choi only managed four homers and 24 RBIs in 93 games for the Dinos, which cut ties with him after the end of the season. In 1,564 career games, Choi has batted .275 with 201 home runs and 881 RBIs.

"I am still in my mid-30s, and I decided to give Australia a try because I wanted to keep playing," Choi said in a statement released by his new team. "I've been training on my own, and I am confident I can fit right in."

Park Choong-sik, Geelong Korea's general manager, said it was easy for him to see just how much Choi wanted to continue his career and added that the veteran hitter could provide an immediate boost to the lineup.

"In addition to being a key hitter, we expect him to play the role of a coach and mentor for younger players," Park said.

Geelong Korea are mostly a team of reclamation projects, with a few other KBO castoffs in their core.

Woo Dong-gyun, 28, is a former high draft pick by the Samsung Lions who didn't pan out after eight seasons, over which he batted .220 with nine home runs and 83 RBIs. Woo was released after 2017 and spent some time in the independent league in Japan.

Heo Geon-yeop, 25, was drafted by the SK Wyverns in 2012 but appeared in just 11 games for them before getting cut this year. He's spent the majority of his career in the second-tier Futures League.

In this file photo from May 1, 2015, Woo Dong-gyun of the Samsung Lions hits a double against the Doosan Bears in the bottom of the third inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Daegu Citizen Stadium in Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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