Hampyeong has never been in the spotlight like this in the history of the Kia Tigers, and with more and more pitchers coming out of Hampyeong, Kia fans are enjoying the fun of ‘fostering’ for the first time in their lives.
In recent years, most KBO clubs have been screaming about development. However, building a long-term system and building manpower is easier said than done. In some ways, KIA, one of the most conservative teams in the KBO, has made some of the most innovative and unconventional choices. In addition to introducing its own Hawkeye system, the team also appointed Son Seung-rak, who trained with the Los Angeles Dodgers after retiring from active duty, as the manager of the Future Team.
“I didn’t do it alone,” he says of the team’s recent accomplishments. “The secret is the collaboration of the coaching staff who moved in unison with the club’s front office, who believed in me and supported me fully,” he said, adding that he hopes to replicate the Dodgers’ farm, one of the best in the major leagues, in Hampyeong.
I visited Hampyeong Challengers Field for the first time in a long time. Every time I come, I realize again that there’s really nothing else to do but play baseball (laughs).
I have a house in Gwangju, but I only go there two or three times a month (laughs). It’s better for me physically to sleep in Hampyeong. There are so many things to do here that I don’t realize how much time is passing, but it’s fun and energizing to think that I can give the players strength and help them.
The day before (May 31), Kwak Do-kyu and Hwang Dong-ha both pitched impressive one-hit shutouts. Did you expect them to pitch that well?
I believed they were capable of doing that, especially (Kwak) Do-gyu, but I thought he would perform even better in a situation where there were fans and excitement. I emphasized that they should communicate with each other and understand why they failed the last time they moved up to the first team and not repeat it. I gave them know-how on how to manage their bodies and when to play catch, and they followed it well. They definitely take what the younger guys give them well (laughs).
It was also said that a ‘Seungriak School’ was opened in Hampyeong as KIA fans watched the young players grow.
Personally, I don’t use the internet or social media, so I don’t know much about it, but I heard those words recently from the team manager of the second team. When I was an active player, I was called ‘rock type’ and ‘Seungrak Theater’, but now that I’m a leader, I thought I’m getting nicknames like that (laughs). Above all, I thought it was encouraging that the fans were so interested in the Future Team.
The LA Dodgers training camp I went to last year had a big impact on my leadership.
The director of pitching asked me, ‘I heard you were the Korean Rivera, how did you throw your cutter,’ so we played catch together and got to know each other by talking about this and that, and then I watched the coaches and saw that they were doing the drills themselves, just like the players, and I realized that this is a place where I can get something by doing it myself and asking questions.
I’ve heard that you’ve gained a tremendous amount of knowledge.
I didn’t just go there to learn the pitching part, I went there to learn all the parts: hitters, baserunning, defense, strings, data, running the club. I didn’t think there was any point in learning just the pitching part, so I learned a lot from the club staff and coaches, who kept buying me Korean barbecue (laughs). I was able to pick up data and know-how that only the local coaching staff or local club staff could see.
When I first came to KIA after training in the U.S., I took on the role of coordinator for the Hawkeye system.
I started out as a coordinator for the Hawkeye system, but the club agreed with my development philosophy, so I took on the role of head coach. Personally, I have a dream of replicating the Dodger farm system in Korea, so I would like to see this system spread throughout the KBO, starting with the KIA Future Team. I want Korean baseball to have many pitchers who can throw 160 km/h like Japanese baseball.
What was the most important thing to you when you set out to create the Future Team system? In general, the Kia Tigers have always been considered a conservative team in that regard.
On the contrary, it was easier to start from zero because we didn’t have any system (laughs). I’m personally very grateful to our Operations 2 Team Leader, Kim Zan, because he had a lot of things in common with me when it came to development, and because he believed in and supported me completely, the system is now complete. Normally, it’s not easy for a club front office to push for innovation and change enough to put their job on the line, but he took charge of everything and made all the development systems I asked for a reality. I hope you’ll write about it.
I’ve heard that you have a great chemistry with the Future Team coaching staff.
Do you know what the Dodgers were looking for most?
It was the people. Even if you don’t have a big name, if you surround yourself with coaches who are pulling in the same direction, you can build a developmental system as quickly as possible, and that’s why I’m so happy right now. The Future Team coaches I’m working with all agree with my coaching philosophy and practice it, so there’s definitely a consensus to maximize the players’ strengths and never criticize them, only praise them.
The players will be more confident.
It’s my goal to get them to feel free to play on the field and not be afraid. If you take a batter as an example, I want to instill the attitude of taking a full swing without looking at a two-strike no-ball, and that kind of thing. More importantly, I want other clubs to say, ‘The KIA Tigers are good at nurturing. I really want to hear them say, ‘We should learn this system.
Choi Ji-min, who has been thriving in the first team this season, is one of the biggest beneficiaries of Seungriak School. What kind of progress has he made?
Jimin Choi is a prime example of how the Hawkeye system has benefited him. Through Hawkeye, we first understood how Ji-min’s pitching motion was twisting, and then we collaborated with the AT team and the strength team, which is what we do best at the Dodgers.
With Jimin, we worked with Strangs to figure out how much more twist he could have, and with AT to figure out what kind of pelvic movement he could have, and through that process, we figured out why the ball kept going to the right, so we increased the restraint and continued to work on the ideal correction for a natural pitch to the zone through the Hawkeye.
It’s actually very rare to see a leap in velocity like that, almost 20 km/h.
When Jimin first came to us, his velocity was down to 130km/h. He was still a kid, so he needed someone to make him do it. At first, it didn’t work out, so his attitude was down, and I remember I even told him not to do it, but he cried and said he would do it. I need to know what I need to do to improve. Things started to pick up in the second half of last year, and then I went to Geelong Korea and blossomed.
In the end, I became the top student of ‘Seungriak School’.
Jimin, in the end, I didn’t do it, you did it (laughs). And I’m just giving direction, and the pitching part is all done by Lee Jung-ho and Lee Sang-hwa. I personally don’t like coaches to just look at the coach’s mouth, so I want to create an environment where coaches can be proactive and let them do the coaching they want to do.
The more I hear about it, the more it seems like a collaborative system of parts is the most important thing.
A hitting coach might say to a pitcher, ‘I can see your hand when you throw,’ and in that situation, when you give the pitcher upper and lower body changes, the strength part says, ‘Let’s build more big muscles,’ and the AT part says, ‘This movement is a risk of injury.’ It’s a collaborative system where all the opinions of all the parts are summarized and concluded. I’m grateful that not only the Future Team coaches, but also Choi Hee-seop and Seo Jae-heng, who are in charge of the rehabilitation part, are really helpful.
What’s the most important thing you look for in the beast part?
What I heard from the Dodgers is that pitchers can come quickly, but beasts need to be patient. You have to be willing to wait at least three or four years, maybe as long as six years, to develop the beast. I believe that even if it takes a little longer, the results will come. The biggest thing I want to emphasize with the beast is the perception of stamina.
Pitchers don’t have to be on the field seven days a week, but batters often have to be on the field for 144 games. You have to have the stamina to play that long, and it’s not just about running more and working out more, it’s about making sure you’re getting the same amount of rest as you’re working out.
It gives you time to recover and reserve.
For the beast part, we’re breaking down the weight training into power, flexibility, and quickness, and then we’re giving them plenty of time to rest and get their bodies ready for the Futures League, so they’re doing a weight program early in the morning, and then they’re resting for about two and a half hours. If they’re at 100 percent strength, they’re only doing 20 percent before the game, and then they’re doing 80 percent during the game, and I think that’s how they’re going to perform better in the game because they’re going to have a better burst of momentum.
I think the players are feeling the effects.
In the beginning, there was definitely a reaction of ‘why are we doing this’ because they were so tired from doing the weights so early in the morning, but then they realized that their bodies recovered by game time. The importance of rest is something that I’ve seen firsthand from my time with the Heroes, and I’m sure that if a prospect learns this process well, they will go up to the first team and give a scary performance.
It must have been a challenge to get the players to understand.
I was very worried about the difference between the reality of Korean baseball and the culture when we tried to implant the DodgerSPAM system. I think young players have more fear, worry, and hurt, and it’s not easy for them to accept sudden changes. But I tried to do everything by infusion at first, and the system was well established thanks to the seniors. In particular, (Lee) Woo-sung and (Ko) Jong-wook stayed in the second team camp this year, and they led by example, so the younger players followed and benefited from it. I’m glad that they seem to be doing well in the first team now.
It’s funny how the path that almost led me to Kia in free agency when I was on the active roster seems to have come full circle.
It’s strange for me too. I think it’s a sign from the heavens to help me as a coach because I couldn’t help as a player (laughs). They said they contacted me because of the passionate way I trained when I was on the field, but I’m not one to judge. I think that if you don’t have the ability, you should disappear, so I’m really desperate to help the Tigers Future team every day. 메이저사이트
I’m also curious about what values I want to fulfill as a leader.
I didn’t get into coaching because I have a sense of authority or because I’m greedy for the position. I just want the young people who are going to lead Korean baseball in the future to have fun and play happy baseball, and I don’t want them to play the kind of baseball that I played in the past, where I kept taking pictures of them and pressing them and making them feel afraid. I really want to walk with conviction and unwavering. Other than that, there’s really not much reason for me to be a leader. Oh, there’s one more thing I want to talk about.
In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about KIA’s development as a problem with the scouting team, but I don’t think it’s just the scouting part. For example, Kwak Do-gyu was picked in the fifth round, but now he’s throwing a ball with a velocity of nearly 150km/h. If that’s the case, then the scouts must have picked a good talent. I would like to emphasize that the scouting part is sending really good talents to the Future Team. Scouting and fostering should be synergized together under the value of collaboration.
Lastly, what message would you like to convey to the KIA fans who are supporting the ‘Acceptance School’?
I would like to thank the KIA fans for their great interest in the Future Team recently. If you come to Hampyeong once in a while, even if you are far away, you will feel how much brighter and better the Future Team players have become. If you come, you can take pictures and get autographs to your heart’s content, so I hope you will come to see the changed Hampyeong often. There are also beautiful flowers blooming near the baseball field now, so please come and visit. Thank you (laughs).