“I prepared hard…Age is just a number.”
Choi Joo-hwan (SSG Landers) started in the fifth spot in the batting order against the Doosan Bears of the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on Saturday and went 2-for-4 with a home run, four RBIs, two runs scored and one strikeout.
Trailing 0-3 in the top of the fifth inning, Choi stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out and took Raul Alcantara’s 151 mph fastball over the right field fence. SSG responded with a two-run homer by Choi and an RBI single by Kim Min-sik to tie the game.
In the top of the sixth inning, with the score tied at 3-3, Choi came through again. With the bases loaded, he drove a changeup from Alcantara into the left field seats. Park Sung-sung from third and Choi Jung from second came home.
SSG responded with a run in the top of the sixth on Han Yoo-seom’s RBI double. They then scored three runs in the eighth and four in the ninth to complete the 14-3 victory.
Choi was drafted by Doosan with the 46th overall pick in the second round of the 2006 KBO First-Year Player Draft and played with the organization through the 2020 season. He joined SSG as a free agent ahead of the 2021 season.
“I didn’t think of it as a game against Doosan, I thought of it as just another game in the season, and I’m glad that the result was better than I thought,” Choi said.
Choi’s home run pace has been good this season. Choi is batting .280 with nine home runs, 24 RBIs, and a .850 OPS in 44 at-bats this season. These are his home run and RBI totals from last season. He is currently tied for second in home runs and first on the team.
Choi said he was motivated by the example of Oh Ji-hwan, who signed a non-free agent multi-year contract ahead of this season after hitting 25 home runs last season. Oh became the first non-free agent to sign a multi-year contract with LG. It is worth a total of 12.4 billion won ($10 billion guaranteed, $2.4 billion option) over six years.
Choi said, “You don’t hit a home run just because you want to. I’m not a home run hitter, but it’s better to have one than not,” Choi said. “When I saw (Oh) Ji-hwan sign a contract last year with a good case, it gave me motivation and a goal, not envy. If I can do that, I think I can be recognized for my value.”
“So far, it’s been going well. But the season is not over. I hope that when the season ends, it will be a good season to reap the harvest,” he said, adding, “My biggest wish is to be healthy and have a good season.”
Choi hit .256 with 18 homers, 67 RBIs and a .782 OPS with 104 hits in 2021, his first season in the organization. However, he struggled last season, batting .211 with 스포츠토토 nine homers, 41 RBIs and a .651 OPS with 63 hits.
Choi was desperate heading into this season. He lost weight and tried to get back into the shape of his prime. He also refrained from drinking alcohol.
“I didn’t do well last season, so I prepared harshly. Even in my 20s, I practiced and ran for my dreams without drinking or smoking,” Choi said. “Until last season, I drank when I had to, but this season, I don’t drink unless it’s a really special occasion. As a result, I think my movements are better than last year.”
In this game, Choi also showed his hustle. In the bottom of the sixth inning, with the bases loaded and no outs, Jung Soo-bin hit a ball to Choi’s side. “Age is just a number,” Choi said with a smile, “and it’s just a number,” he added.