Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Korean baseball fans may see a new home run king producing more than 40 dingers this year.

Each team has played 13 or 14 games, and new sluggers as well as former power hitters have been heating up the race.

Former Major Leaguer Choi Hee-seop of the Kia Tigers has taken center stage, re-gaining his power stroke and leading the league with five homers.

LG Twins big bopper Roberto Petagine, a former home run king in the Central League in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), also shared first place.

Both have failed to show their prowess in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).

Choi only generated seven homers in his league debut year, 2007, and showed poor performance after only hitting six last season.

But determined Choi, who played for the Chicago Cubs, Florida Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers in his four-year big league career, fixed his swing after losing 10 kilograms.

``Advice from batting coach Hwang Byung-il has helped me a lot. And I study a lot about the pitching patterns of Korean pitchers.

``I don't worry about my number of strikeouts. Having strikeouts can also mean you are producing lots of homers. I'm not afraid of it.''

Like Choi, Petagine had a difficult first season in 2008, sending only seven balls over the fence during the entire season. But the Venezuelan has gotten back on track, with the Twins slugger hitting five homers, including three homers in three consecutive at-bats, so far this year.

Last year’s home run king Kim Tae-kyun of the Hanwha Eagles trails the 2009 leading group by one. Kim is in second place with three other sluggers who have four homers each. / Yonhap
Competing with them are Hanwha Eagles' new foreign slugger Victor Diaz ― who makes up the team's feared line-up with Kim Tae-kyun and Lee Bum-ho ― and Doosan Bears big boy Choi Joon-seok at five.

Original sluggers also put in good performances. Last year, home run king Kim Tae-kyun of the Hanwha Eagles trailed the leading group by one with Lee Dae-ho and Karim Garcia of the Lotte Giants

Last season's leading hitter Kim Hyun-soo of the Doosan Bears also joined the second group by upgrading his power.

As each team will play 133 games ― five more than last season ― these sluggers could generate more than a minimum of 47 based on the assumption that they will hit five every 13 games.

No one has produced more than 40 dingers since Lee clinched top spot with 56 in 2003, which is the most home runs in any professional baseball league in Asia.

The reason many people expect that sluggers could generate more than 40 homers is simply because there are many rivals in the home run race.

When Lee produced 56, he had a very competitive rival in Shim Jung-soo, the then Hyundai Unicorns slugger.

Many baseball fans expect to see Korean sluggers to power their way through the domestic league just as they did at the second World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March.

Korea, which has been evaluated as ``small ball'' like the Japanese, made startled baseball fans by producing a string of homers through the Hanwha Eagles' Kim Tae-kyun, Choo Shin-soo of the Cleveland Indians and Lee Bum-ho, also of the Eagles.

Korean fans are ready to go wild with enthusiasm if the marker is broken, and the batters have been satisfying their expectation thus far.

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