If the NFL Draft viewership numbers are an indication of the obvious, we are absolutely craving sports. After ESPN initially tried to acquire broadcasting rights to Korea’s KBO for free, it now sounds like a more sensible deal may be coming. For Twins fans that’s a neat development given the superstar that could soon grace our televisions.
Back in December 2015 the Minnesota Twins paid just north of $12 million for exclusive rights to hammer out a contract with KBO superstar ByungHo Park. He then signed a four-year deal that would pay him $12 million in total.
Unfortunately, he ended up playing in just 62 major league games and residing in American pro ball for just two seasons. After having watched him for nearly a decade, the Twins and Park went their separate ways with no real positives ever playing out.
It was easy for fans to cherry pick an unrelated Asian signee in Tsuyoshi Nishioka as a reason why the Park deal went belly up. The reality is that neither player came from the same league, had a similar background, or were tied by any other means aside from their descent.
Park had relocated to an entirely new country and was trying to acclimate in an entirely new environment. After being among the stars of the show in the KBO, he was just another face in the crowd for the Twins. Minnesota was coming off a 2nd place finish in the AL Central, and would be on their way to a disastrous 103-loss 2016.
Park developed wrist issues early on in his first season with the club, and despite some time off, contended that it wasn’t an issue. Eventually in August he’d undergo further testing and cede to season ending surgery.
In his first 32 Major League games Park posted a .917 OPS and 9 long balls. The power threat from the KBO had delivered out of the gate. As his malady nagged however, it became more difficult for him to continue producing. He’d post just a .444 OPS over his next 30 games, which turned out to be his last in the big leagues. Playing through injury is often commendable, but in this instance, likely cost him any future favor.
Spring Training went well for Park in 2017 but he was ultimately sent to Triple-A Rochester where he dealt with a hamstring injury and posted just a .723 OPS in 111 games. Deciding the Twins weren’t the right fit for him, the final two years of his contract were forgone, and he returned home to Korea.
Now back in the KBO for the past two seasons, the 33-year-old has picked up where he left off.
Initially returning to the Nexen Heroes, Park Bang did exactly that. In 2018 he played in 113 games posting a ridiculous 1.174 OPS with 43 dingers. It wasn’t the 53 tally he launched in 2015 before signing stateside, but something had changed since his return from the big leagues. Park had an approach that posted a career best .457 OBP. After whiffing at a 2:1 K/BB clip in 2015, he’d dropped that number all the way down to 1.5. Repeating similar success in 2019, Park posted a .959 OPS with 33 homers and an identical 1.5 K/9.
The largest knock on Park prior to entering the Majors was that his swing was long and an already strikeout prone hitter would whiff substantially for the Twins. His nearly 4.0 K/BB ratio with Minnesota proved that to be true, but again we never got to see what a healthy version of a man with his own home run song could do.
Returning to Korea, it appears a level of plate discipline was learned and expanded upon only furthering his ability to produce as he rose in age.
Now with the Kiwoom Heroes (same organization but a new sponsorship deal signed with Kiwoom Securities began in 2019) Park and former (albeit brief) Twin Taylor Motter will kick off the season together.
Park is aging, but it doesn’t appear his abilities aren't going anywhere soon. We never got to see the best version of him stateside, and while this isn’t the same caliber of baseball, the guy that could have helped to transition towards the Bomba Squad may once again be on broadcasts in Twins Territory.
In recent memory it’s Park that sticks out as a player that defines what could have been for me. We’ll never know, but now we can enjoy watching from afar.
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