“Honestly, I want to do better than you”
Park Jin-hyung, who was nominated by the Lotte Giants as the 13th overall pick in the second round of the 2013 rookie draft, has been suspended since the 2021 season. The reason is that he has served in the military to fulfill his mandatory military service. However, he completed his mandatory military service as a long-term social service agent on Nov. 16 last year, and is sweating profusely as he joined the spring camp for the top-tier Korean Professional Baseball Organization (KMA) in Guam, the U.S.
Park Jin-hyung’s first-team career in the 2013 season with Lotte started in the last 2015 season. Although he only pitched in two games at the time, Park Jin-hyung started to stand out in 39 games in the 2016 season, recording 6 wins, 2 losses and 3 holds with a 5.81 ERA. The following year, he showed growth in 45 games (nine starts) with 4 wins, 4 losses, 10 holds, 2 saves with a 5.11 ERA, and established himself as a key bullpen agent for Lotte.
In fact, Park Jin-hyung’s average ERA for the season has been moving back and forth between 5 and 7 points, except when he recorded 4.02 in the 2019 season. However, Park Jin-hyung’s presence was undeniably unique at the time that he was one of the key resources of the Lotte bullpen. Although he was away for a while due to military service, he returned to the status of wearing the Lotte uniform last year, and thanks to this, the depth of the Lotte bullpen has become thicker than last year.
Considering that he did not show up in the main league, he has been absent for well over two years, but he has a good pace even during his hiatus. As he already pitched once or twice before starting the spring camp and then threw a bullpen session in Guam, where the spring camp is taking place, manager Kim Tae-hyung even briefly watched Park Jin-hyung pitch, and even complimented him, saying, “I really liked Park Jin-hyung, too.” As such, he had a thirst for baseball during his hiatus.
“At first, I didn’t think I would be able to adjust, but as I came two to three days earlier as the starting team, I don’t think there is much difference,” said Park Jin-hyung, who joined the spring camp for the first time in a long time. “I think it’s more comfortable because the older members who were in the team are old-timers,” he said. “I prepared a little earlier this year. Since I rested for two years, I had a lot to check. Currently, my physical condition has risen to 7-80 percent, and I don’t think it’s bad.”
Park Jin-hyung’s last appearance in the first division was against the Kiwoom Heroes in Sajik on September 11, 2021. It is true that social service personnel have a longer period of military service than active duty, but Park Jin-hyung’s absence seemed to be particularly long unlike other players. Park Jin-hyung decided to fulfill his military service at the end of the 2021 season, but he seemed to have served longer in the military than others because he could not join the military without a position. However, the two-year gap does not feel much.
After watching Park’s first bullpen session, manager Kim Tae-hyung said, “I can play now.” “I haven’t thrown many balls in the past two years. However, I never checked because I was confident in my senses. I have a good feeling (to throw) to the ball,” he said with a smile.
Park Jin-hyung did not appear to be restrained before joining the military, but his ankle injury, which is not a problem with his elbow and shoulder, made him feel sick. However, he is in simply perfect physical condition now. Park has been steadily building his body through PT before leaving the military and preparing for his return by throwing a ball at Sajik Stadium before going to Sajik Station. “I have no ankle pain at all now. Thanks to him, I feel comfortable and I think I am able to speed up well. Usually, about 132 kilometers comes out in the camp, and 141 to 2 kilometers from the match between Cheongbaek and Cheongbaek, but now when I ask the catcher, he comes out at 140 kilometers,” he explained.
During Park Jin-hyung’s hiatus, Lotte has made a big change. He never experienced former coach Larry Sutton, and a lot of new faces appeared during this period. As the hiatus was long, I feel like I want to look good to head coach Kim Tae-hyung. “Of course, I have to look good,” he said. “I’m going to throw the ball with the mindset of a rookie because I’m back after a long time. I’m going to listen to everything the coach asks and follow along.”
Park Jin-hyung has been working as a social service agent in the “Resignation Service”. As he worked close to Sajik Stadium in the “Home Town,” he had a strong thirst for baseball. That is why he is so happy when he is in the spring camp and throws the ball. “I am so happy. I love being in the spring camp right now. I would have been tired if I was in the past, but now I don’t feel tired,” Park said.
I left the team for a while, but I’ve always watched Lotte Baseball. Park Jin-hyung said, “It was great to keep ranking first in the early part of last season. But I was at a subway station. Also, there were so many fans next to Sajik Stadium. At that time, I thought a lot, ‘I want to play baseball at Sajik Stadium, too. Why am I here?’ While cheering, I also felt a little selfish, thinking, ‘I shouldn’t do too well when I’m not here. But now that I’m back, I hope everyone does well.” 꽁머니지급
Since he had a long hiatus, he has a lot of things he wants to achieve this year. “Honestly, I want to do better than the older guys,” Park Jin-hyung said. “I’m a free agent soon, but I haven’t shown anything more than the older guys. I want to do well because I’ve never played a full-time season in the bullpen properly. I want to be the main character in the bullpen. If I’m not the main character, I want to be the second-in-command,” Park said. “I don’t know what my job will be, but my goal is to hold 20 holds. I want to hold 30 holds.”