Will Park Byeong-ho (37, KT Wiz), the ‘home run king’, be able to shake off the nightmare of Tokyo Dome 4 years ago and display the might of a national hero in international competitions?
Park Byeong-ho was listed on the list of 30 finalists for the 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC) announced on the 4th. He is a veteran who turned 37 this year, but he won the KBO League’s oldest home run king last year and was included in the 8-man infielder’s entry along with 7 juniors. Park Byeong-ho, born in 1986, is the oldest player in the national team along with Lee Ji-young (Kiwoom).
Park Byeong-ho has stood out not only in Korea but also in international competitions. Starting with the gold medal at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, winning the Premier 12 in 2015, and winning the gold medal at the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games, he has always been with Korean baseball in glorious moments.
However, the recent international competition remains as a bad memory. In 2019, thanks to All-Star, first baseman Golden Glove, and home run king (33), he took on the heavy responsibility of hitting 4th in the Premier 12, but unfortunately finished the tournament with a batting average of 107 9 li (5 hits in 28 at-bats) without long hits.
Park Byeong-ho, who started 4 times in all 7 matches from the first match of the opening round against Australia to the match against Japan in the Super Round, was sluggish with a batting average of .208 (5 hits in 24 at-bats). All of his five hits were singles, and he seemed unable to swing at all. Nevertheless, the trust of director Kim Kyung-moon was strong. Just as Lee Seung-yeop washed away his sluggishness at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and knocked out a valuable shot, Park Byeong-ho also firmly believed that he would survive. However, he failed to lift the championship trophy in the final match against Japan as he went silent with no hits and one strikeout in 4 at-bats.
Park Byeong-ho, who suffered from controversy over the aging curve for a while, regained his reputation as a national hero with his transfer to KT last year. In the 2022 season, he played an active role with a batting average of 2.775 ri, 35 home runs, 98 RBIs, and OPS .908 in 124 games in the 2022 season, beating Jose Pirella (28, Samsung) 안전놀이터 and winning the honor of the oldest home run king. After 2019, he recaptured the home run king title in three years, and won the trophy in the home run category for the 6th time (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2019, 2022), the highest ever.
The first baseman and designated hitter resources for the 2023 WBC team are Park Byung-ho, major leaguers Choi Ji-man (Pittsburgh) and Kang Baek-ho (KT). While Choi Ji-man is expected to be the starting first baseman, Park Byeong-ho is expected to be able to concentrate on batting as a designated hitter or pinch hitter. In the aftermath of an ankle ligament rupture in September last year, a question mark was attached to the first base defense in this tournament, but with the addition of a reliable first baseman named Choi Ji-man, the burden was relieved.
National team coach Lee Kang-chul, who witnessed Park Byung-ho’s resurgence last year at close range, has high expectations. Coach Lee said, “I think Park Byeong-ho can keep up with the speed of the pitchers in the first round against Asian teams. The Tokyo Dome stadium is also small, so I will look forward to Park Byung-ho’s performance.” Will Park Byeong-ho be able to shake off his nightmares in 2019 and hit a long hit at the Tokyo Dome?