SUWON -- Kang Baek-ho, a hot-hitting rookie in South Korean baseball, attributes his fast start to mere luck.
And given his strong numbers so far in the Korea Baseball Organization, a lot of other hitters would love to be as lucky as the KT Wiz outfielder.
Kang, still just 18, is tied for the league lead, with four homers through the first eight games of the season. He is second in RBI, with 11, and is also batting a robust .333.
In the KBO's 36-year history, only one rookie, Park Jae-hong of the Hyundai Unicorns in 1996, has led the league in home runs. Park hit 30 while playing in all 126 games that year.
|Kang Baek-ho of the KT Wiz takes a swing against the Kia Tigers in the top of the third inning during a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul, on March 25. (Yonhap)|
KBO teams now play 144 games. Kang, who bats left and throws right, is on pace to easily surpass Park's total, though the teenager will almost certainly hit a rookie wall at some point, and opposing pitchers will figure him out soon enough.
In the meantime, Kang is enjoying his ride.
"It's fun to be a part of this team," Kang said after the Wiz's 9-4 win over the Doosan Bears at KT Wiz Park in Suwon, 45 kilometers south of Seoul. "I feel like I've been making good adjustments, and it's been exciting."
As for his home runs, Kang said, "I think I've been lucky to hit them. I have to get pitches to hit, and I've just been in the right situations."
Kang has gone deep against some of the KBO's best hurlers, including Hector Noesi of the Kia Tigers, a 20-game winner in 2017, and Chang Won-jun of the Bears, who has won at least 10 games in each of his past eight seasons.
"It's an honor just to go up against those pitchers," Kang said. "It means a lot to me to have done so well against them."
And again, Kang pointed to luck as the key factor.
"It's not like I swing the bat well all the time, and I've been lucky a few times," he said. "I've been able to pounce on pitchers' mistakes."
Kang said his first week has been meaningful not just because he was putting up gaudy numbers, but because he was learning at every opportunity.
"I've made some mistakes on defense, and I've come to the plate in situations where we were trying to cut into deficits," Kang said. "I think this has been a great learning experience, and I still have a lot of room for improvement at the plate."
Kang was a two-way star in high school, a fireballer on the mound and a hard-hitting catcher when he wasn't starting. KT manager Kim Jin-wook turned him into an outfielder as a pro and has said he's glad Kang has stuck to hitting in the KBO.
The young player has also endeared himself to the Wiz fans, who have seen their team finish dead last in each of the past three seasons. With the arrivals of Kang and former San Francisco Giants third baseman Hwang Jae-gyun, the Wiz are hoping this will be the year that they finally move out of the cellar.
"I'll have my ups and downs, and I hope the fans will stay patient with me," he said. "It was great to play before huge crowds during our opening weekend, and I'll try to give them something to cheer about and help the team win." (Yonhap)