Park Has Big Dreams And Big Shoes To Fill

PULASKI, VA - Hoy Jun Park made his season and professional debut Tuesday night at the newly-renovated Calfee Park as the starting shortstop for the new rookie affiliate for New York, the Pulaski Yankees. Park got off to a nice start, finishing the game 1-3 with an RBI.

Park, however, is still getting used to the professional stage. Through his first three games, Park is 2-11 with three RBIs and two walks.

“There are a lot more fans than I expected but I’m definitely enjoying it so far,” Park said.

The Yankees signed Park in July 2014 as an international free agent. Park, a South Korean native who reportedly received around a $1 million signing bonus, emulates and models his game after Texas Rangers outfielder Shin-soo Choo.

“He was in the same situation as me,” Park said. “He had to go up level by level and stick through it all.”

According to various scouts, Park is a legitimate shortstop prospect who has the tools to stay at the position as he develops and some scouts think he has the potential to be above average in every facet of the game, except for power.

“I’m a player that always plays hard,” Park said. “I’m a good defender; I can steal bases and hit the ball hard.”

“He can hit,” Pulaski Yankees manager Tony Franklin emphasized. “His bat is pretty good. That’s pretty recognizable when you see him play. Somehow or another, the barrel of the bat finds the ball and not everyone is capable of doing that. He’s a very intuitive guy. He recognizes things about the game and makes adjustments correctly for a young guy.”

At 19 years old, Park is one of the youngest players on the roster but Franklin hasn’t seen his youth affect him.

“He’s keeping up very well,” Franklin said. “There’s no doubt that at 19 you haven’t been able to put on muscle mass so it’s going to make a difference somewhere down the road. But that’s why we have a conditioning program. We teach them how to get stronger to enable them to know how to get better and last longer."

Park started the season at Extended Spring Training and focused on filling out his frame.

“I did a lot of weight training and numerous baseball activities,” Park said. Park said he gained about five to seven pounds during the offseason.

Park also said that playing thousands of miles away from home in the United States is different than playing in South Korea, citing the better quality of talent.

“It was a long process and I had trouble adjusting,” Park said. “Baseball is still different here but over the course of Extended I adjusted well. I’ve learned a lot but the biggest thing is the pitchers’ velocity.” Park said that pitchers in the U.S. throw about five to seven miles per hour faster than overseas.

Franklin said that Park is no different from other players when it comes to what he needs to improve on: consistency.

“I could tell you the same thing about every guy in the minors,” Franklin said. “They need to become more consistent with what they do. They need to learn everything they need to know about the game.

“It’s okay to be vocal because if you are you can help your teammates understand everything about the game as well and with Park and the other kids here it’s about consistency."

Not only is Park dealing with differences on the field, but differences off the field as well. Though he said he hadn’t been in Pulaski long enough to notice the differences, he said the culture is different surrounding baseball.

“The coaches are always on you there,” Park said. “There is a certain discipline level overseas but here it’s free, it’s cooler and you can have more fun playing.”

Franklin in his 40-plus-year long career in baseball says international players have always dealt with differences, and even hired cultural adviser Miguel Bonilla to help players make the transition.

“I don’t think baseball speaks any different languages, but the players do,” Franklin said. “The game is the same, whether it’s here or in the majors or in Seoul, South Korea or in Japan. The game plays the same.

"Yes, there are some differences in culture but that’s why [Park] has an interpreter. I think the interpreter is a very good thing for him because he needs to know exactly what we’re saying as American ball players.

“I’m sure they are taken back by some of the things happening in our culture, but so are we,” Franklin continued. “In the midst of all this we have to win a baseball game. How does it fit? I don’t know. There might be an explanation but I’m certainly not qualified to give it. I have my own personal thoughts on it but I often wonder how it effects what they think about with that particular incident and American culture. I’m always aware of that.”

Playing shortstop in the Yankees organization certainly comes with pressure to live up to the historic career of legend Derek Jeter. Park acknowledged the pressure but said he remains focused.

“I’m not worried about that,” Park said. “I just want to play my game and get better.”

With Park’s natural talent and dedication to the game, Franklin said he believes Park should reach his potential.

“This is a heck of a grind for a young kid to go through,” Franklin said. “We push them to no end and we continue to tell them things will get better.”

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