After batting an average of .379 with 13 extra-base hits in July, Jungho Kang was crowned the US Major League’s Rookie of the Month award on Aug. 4. This prestigious title, never before been received by a Korean, has not only distinguished Kang for his unique performance, but also opened a gateway for other Korean athletes to be inducted into Major League Baseball.
Displaying a .356 average in his last year with the Nexen Heroes in Korea, Kang signed a 4-year, 11 million-dollar contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. While there have been other well-known Korean Major League pitchers such as Hyunjin Ryu, Kang enjoys the unique status of being the first position player transferred directly from the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). Because pressure often accompanies such distinctions, many Pirates fans like Yoohyun Kwon (11) initially doubted Kang’s potential to succeed after joining the Major League. However, Kang’s impressive performance in July coupled with his unorthodox plays have captivated his fans and transformed him from a national to a global sensation.
“I initially thought Jungho Kang would fail under the pressure he was receiving both from his country and his coaches,” Yoohyun said. “However, his recent success has made me firmly believe that he will become a very valuable player for the Pirates later on in the year.”
Others however, doubt that Kang’s strong performance in July will last long. Whilst applauding Kang’s statistical success, some, like Major League follower Brian Sohn (11), feel that Kang’s “recent hype” comes not so much from his ability as it does from his unique status as a Korean field player.
“Because all players experience ‘monthly booms’ at some point in their careers, it is too early to distinguish Kang as a star player,” Brian said. “The question that will answer this is whether or not he can maintain this level of ability.”
Yet another group sees the far-reaching implications Kang’s successful induction in the Major League can have upon others wishing to play abroad. Baseball scouts from the US have recently shown more interest in players from the KBO, and many believe this heightened interest in Korean players, initially propagated by Kang’s flourishing Major League career, reflects a trend that will continue.
“Though I enjoy watching the MLB, I do wish to see more Korean players,” said Andy Kim (10), an avid KBO fan. “There are so many talented players who are similar to Kang in skill but are simply overlooked for playing in a league that isn’t as publicly noticed.”