Bae Ji-hwan (24, Pittsburgh Pirates) wears the same dugout this season as ‘Idol’ Andrew McCutcheon (37) and close senior Choi Ji-man (32).
He was given the opportunity to grow greatly both mentally and technically.
Bae Ji-hwan left for the United States on the 10th to join the 2023 American Professional Baseball Major League Pittsburgh Spring Camp.
Bae Ji-hwan, who met reporters at Incheon International Airport, smiled brightly, thinking of McCutcheon and Choi Ji-man.
Bae Ji-hwan, who started his professional life after signing with Pittsburgh in 2018, recalled, “When I first came to Pittsburgh, I grew up watching senior Kang Jeong-ho and McCutcheon.” The captain is back. It’s a great opportunity for me.”
McCutcheon is the biggest star Pittsburgh has ever produced.
McCutcheon, who joined Pittsburgh in 2005, was called the “captain” before transferring to the San Francisco Giants in 2018.
In 2013, he was named National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) with a batting average of .317, 21 homers, 84 RBIs, 97 runs scored, and 27 stolen bases.
Pittsburgh, a small market club, used McCutcheon as a trade card as he was close to obtaining free agent qualification.
However, in 2023, when his retirement was approaching, McCutcheon returned to Pittsburgh, and Ji-hwan Bae, the “McCutcheon Kid,” welcomed his return.
Ji-Hwan Choi, who made friends with Bae Ji-Hwan outside the stadium, also wore a Pittsburgh uniform as a trade.
Bae Ji-hwan laughed and said, “I’m so close that I can’t say itchy words. Even if my throw is bad, I hope Jee Ji-yi catches the throw well at first base.”
Although not in the big leagues, Shim Jun-seok also joined Pittsburgh right after graduating from high school.
Bae Ji-hwan promised to serve as a mentor for Shim Jun-seok, saying, “If you need my help, please contact me anytime.”
Bae Ji-hwan, who made his big league debut on September 24 last year, dreams of becoming a ‘full-time big leaguer’ in 2023.
However, after enduring a long time, he calmly said, “I will not be disappointed even if I am excluded from the opening roster, and I will work hard to re-enter the big leagues.”
The following is a Q&A with Bae Ji-hwan.
— How do you feel about leaving for the US after completing domestic training?
▲ (Since 2018, when he entered the American professional baseball league), he leaves Korea every year. There is no very special feeling.
— This is your first time joining spring camp as a big leaguer, not as an invited player.
▲ When I participated in the spring camp as an invited player, I knew that I would go down to the minor leagues ahead of the opening and started the camp. If I do well this year, I can stay in the big league camp and get on the opening roster. This part is definitely different.
— Departure later than other Korean big leaguers.
▲ I trained hard while staying in Seoul, not my hometown (Daegu). While in Korea, I tried to do as many good things as possible. But since my main job is a baseball player, my first priority has always been training. He stayed in Korea a little longer because he wanted to eat a lot of Korean food.
— You did a lot of good things, such as donating to a facility for single mothers.
▲ I was impressed to see seniors I respect help those in need. Now I wanted to do something like that too. I also visited my alma mater, and I was happy to be able to give words of encouragement to players who had just started playing baseball. Every year when I come to Korea, I want to do something meaningful. 메이저놀이터
— I heard that you also worked hard on Pilates.
▲ I thought it was an exercise unrelated to baseball, but when I actually did it, it was very helpful. Senior Choi Ji-man (first baseman) said he did Pilates to tear his legs well, but I did Pilates to prevent injuries.
— There is an article that the club wants to fix Bae Ji-hwan’s position during the spring camp.
▲ I am comfortable in both the infield and the outfield. All I want is to be included in the starting lineup. I don’t insist on position or batting order. Last season, the club asked me, ‘Which position are you comfortable with? The shortstop is the most difficult, and the left fielder is unfamiliar.” But the next day, I played in left field (laughs).
— Major league clubs sometimes remove players from the opening roster due to service time.
▲ It would be regrettable if I was left out of the opening roster because of service time, but I can accept it happily because it means that the club is managing me. I will not be disappointed even if I fall for the opening roster, and I will aim to enter the big leagues. Of course, I am greedy to enter the opening roster. The captain (Andrew McCutcheon) has returned, and senior Ji-man Choi has also joined our team. I’m still a rookie I want to learn a lot from seniors.
— Recruiting veterans such as McCutcheon will help the team.
▲ Most of the players are young, so honestly, it felt like our dugout was distracting. It heated up like a pan and then cooled down. The seniors will set the mood well. When I first came to Pittsburgh, I grew up watching Kang Jung-ho and McCutcheon. Many people remember McCutcheon hitting a walk-off home run and slowly walking toward home.
— Personally, I became a teammate with Choi Ji-man.
▲ I can’t say ticklish words because I’m so friendly. (Laughter) Even if my throw is bad, I hope you catch it well at first base.
- Shim Jun-seok begins his professional career in Pittsburgh.
▲ Shim Jun-seok was also recognized and signed a contract with Pittsburgh. you will do well If you need my help, please contact me anytime.
— What are your goals for this season?
▲ Last year, he only played 10 games in the big leagues. He would have played more often had he not been injured. This year, I want to play full-time without a break.
— Increased base size, new regulations such as pitching time limit.
▲ I first experienced it in the minor league Triple A. The ‘pitch clock’, which limits pitching time, was advantageous to hitters. The number of times a pitcher withdraws from the pitch or pitch board is limited to two per at-bat. Pitchers are under stress. I will make good use of this. A change in bass size doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. Still, when I first started defending, the base was as big as a pizza box, so it was unfamiliar. When defending, collisions with runners are definitely reduced.
— What do you really want to do in the big leagues this year?
▲ Now that the first hit, stolen base, and RBI have been completed, it is time for the first home run. I only ate real food and did weight training. I want to be a versatile player. Although classified as a contact hitter, he is also greedy for home runs.
— What kind of player do you want to be?
▲ Baseball has a business side. Baseball fans should be entertained. I hope the fans will enjoy watching my matches. I want to become a national representative someday. Representing the country in all sports brings pride to the athlete.