Park Feels He Belongs

The Yankees signed 18-year old Korean shortstop Hyo-Joon Park this year as one of their top International free agent signings. He says he didn't feel like a part of the Yankees until this Instructional League season but after getting a taste of professional baseball, despite the obvious cultural and lingual adjustments that need to be made, he feels like he belongs.

He signed on July 2nd for a reported $1.1 million but did not officially report to the Yankees until he arrived on September 8th for Instructs.

"At first I didn't really feel like I was with the Yankees but when I came over here I felt like it was really the Yankees," Park said through the help of his translator. "I felt the name value. I feel like now I'm starting my career."

Park, who had been over in the United States once before when he went to Los Angeles with his high school team to train last winter, feels like he's adjusting quite well given the brief amount of time in a new land. In fact, he says he is enjoying it thoroughly.

"It's better than I thought in every way," he said. "It's more free here than in Korea. My teammates and coaches are very nice to me so I'm adapting well."

Aside from the obvious cultural differences he will have to experience going forward there is also the language barrier. Park, who says he understands some English, doesn't speak the language at all right now and has to use his translator for most communication in the early going.

"I'm trying to learn English right now," he admitted. "Right now I understand a little bit but I feel like I'll get better later on.

"Whenever I have to show a message I just use body language. Right now I'm fine. I'm getting more and more comfortable each day."

That comfort level was showing on the field during Instructs too. He didn't look intimidated in the field or in the batter's box at all. As a matter of fact, given the brief three weeks he spent in Tampa, he played very well.

"My coaches are helping me baseball-wise a lot so it's helping me a lot adjusting [overall]. My teammates have been helping me too so I'm doing fine."

He prides himself on his defense and his base running, and while he has a knack for hitting consistently, a trait he absolutely demonstrated at Instructs, he does realize it may take some time to get used to seeing the consistent plus velocity he wasn't able to experience in his native country.

"They throw faster here but since they don't really have good control yet it's better for me to hit it since it's right down the middle [of the plate]. It's not too hard yet.

"I definitely feel like I have parts in my game that I can improve on [though] and I'll definitely be working to improve them. I still have to do more defensive work, just overall fielding and throwing, and also gain more strength."

It's only been a brief taste of professional baseball thus far but Park has looked good in the early going and his growing confidence is palpable. This isn't a teenager who gets intimidated too easily despite being a stranger in a strange land right now.

"Definitely the overall talent here is much better than in Korea but since I was the best player in Korea I don't feel like it's overwhelming at all," he said flatly. "I belong here and it's a good competition to have."

He acknowledges that there is a lot of work to do on and off the baseball diamond this offseason in preparation for his debut season next year, but he can't help but feel a sense of longing for it to come quickly.

"I'm excited. I'm going to train in Korea in the offseason and have a really good season. Overall I have to improve but the main thing I'll focus on is improving power, getting more strength," he concluded.

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