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Rookie of the Year. Two-time Golden Gloves Award winner. All-star game MVP.One of the best shortstops in Korea. All of these titles define Ji-Hyun Ryu (Physical Education, '94), a Korean all-star baseball player who has played for the LG Twins in the Korean Baseball League (KBL) during his career of 11 years. Ryu retired to become a baseball coach on the LG team as he wanted to stay an 'LG-man'. Although nine years have passed since he first became a baseball coach, Ryu said, "My life has just arrived at the second base of the baseball stadium. Now, I am about to take one step forward from second base to reach a home run."

Home run to first base, baseball player

Ryu's baseball life can be depicted in one word, "destiny." In 1981, when Ryu was in his fourth grade in elementary school, he came across a newspaper advertisement for a youth baseball team. After some consideration, Ryu joined the youth team. "My parents could not oppose my decision as I was so determined." Fortunately, a baseball coach from  Chungahm  elementary school discovered Ryu's great talent and scouted the young player. This is how Rye started to play baseball.

According to many baseball experts, Ryu was so talented at high school baseball that he played as pitcher and shortstop at the same time. "At high school level, the best players play both pitcher and other positions, regardless of what their positions are," explained Ryu, who did not experience any difficulties with his role until he hurt his right wrist in 1988. "In 1988, the high school national baseball tournament was downsized because of the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Adding insult to injury, I somewhat broke my right wrist during practice," commented Ryu, recalling his childhood. He also added, "I was too passionate at the time that I didn't want to miss an easy tournament because of my wrist. So, I played with the injury which unfortunately led to another critical injury. My shoulder."

Ryu again suffered another big injury in his third year at Hanyang University (HYU), again on his wrist. For some time, Ryu wanted to rest because he remembered his last memory when he broke his right wrist. However, he had to play because there was no one that could take his place. This, unfortunately, made Ryu suffer from chronic shoulder injury until his last day as a professional player in the Korean Baseball League. Despite all these hardships, Ryu said, "I had never regretted my decisions in the past. I think that all the decisions I made at the time made me of what I am today."

No pain, no gain

Before his entrance to the professional baseball league, many doubts prevailed in all over the media reports. Due to Ryu's injury record, several teams hesitated to recruit him. Despite all the doubts, Ryu showed his potential and talents in his first year in the KBL. He became Rookie of the Year and also won his final championship game leading his team to win the whole series. "Because of my weakened shoulder, I developed my other skills to cover the gap. I sped up my feet and threw balls faster than before," said Ryu telling about how he became the best player in his first year and throughout his 11-year player life. Regarding his Rookie award, he said, "The award itself had no meaning. I just felt really happy that I rediscovered myself."

The beginning of his career was quite but this happy story, however, did not last. Ryu's team, LG Twins never won the series a single time after 1994. Ryu said, "Winning the series in my high school league and in a professional league was completely different. After a few years in the upper league, I realized that winning was not easy." Moreover, Ryu again suffered from elbow joint injury in his old days of his career in 2002. Due to the injury, Ryu's years on the field was shortened and, finally, he retired in 2004 with his legendary story as a baseball player at an end. Surprisingly, Ryu immediately started his second chapter of his life story after his retirement.

First base to second base, coach Ryu

In 2005, Ryu became base coach for the LG Twins and after two years, he decided to study abroad about baseball, especially as a coach. He flew to the United States the mecca of baseball leagues and took part in two years of training in Seattle. Afterwards, Ryu returned back to the LG twins and took charge as defense coach.

"As a coach, witnessing the improvements from the players I coach is one of the most rewarding gifts," said Ryu with a smile in his face. According to Ryu who has experience being both a player and a coach, some differences exist between being a player and a coach. "As a player, it is easy to focus on personal training and raising records. On the other hand, as a coach, rather than focusing on personal records, I tend to focus on the team's record," said Ryu. Therefore, at present, Ryu strives hard to make a good defense system for the entire team. At the same time, he personally gives lessons to players to make a 'post-Ryu' in the team.


Ryu's baseball

Although Ryu has had a baseball life for 20 years including 11 years as a professional player and 9 years as a coach, he is not sure why he has been in the baseball field. "Just destiny. There was always an option to choose basketball, football, or other sports. But I just wanted to play baseball. I was just drawn to it," said Ryu.

All he wants now are two things; one is for LG Twins to get good results at the end of the series and the second is for HYU's baseball team to gain more confidence. Despite all the efforts he put into the LG Twins as a coach, he has not won a single championship. Therefore, he truly wants his team to do better in the next season. For his old university team, HYU baseball team, Ryu wishes that the HYU baseball team will become more confident by remembering all the great Korean baseball stars who trained at HYU.

 






SiHwan Kim

kbi2ksh@hanyang.ac.kr

 
Other articles written by this reporter

Photo by Bomin Park