Veteran KBO pitcher at peace with retirement, 'happy' with long career

유지호 / 2022-01-20 17:25:07
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▲ Former Doosan Bears pitcher Yoo Hee-kwan wipes away tears during his retirement press conference at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on Jan. 20, 2022. (Yonhap)

▲ Former Doosan Bears pitcher Yoo Hee-kwan (L) receives a bouquet of flowers from the team's manager, Kim Tae-hyoung, before his retirement press conference at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on Jan. 20, 2022. (Yonhap)

▲ Former Doosan Bears pitcher Yoo Hee-kwan touches the mound at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul after his retirement press conference at the ballpark on Jan. 20, 2022. (Yonhap)

▲ Former Doosan Bears pitcher Yoo Hee-kwan speaks at his retirement press conference at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on Jan. 20, 2022. (Yonhap)

pitcher-retirement

Veteran KBO pitcher at peace with retirement, 'happy' with long career

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Jan. 20 (Yonhap) -- Counting his years as a student-athlete, pitcher Yoo Hee-kwan says he has spent 25 years of his life playing baseball.

Having announced his retirement this week at age 35, the now former Doosan Bears left-hander feels perfectly content with how his career played out.

After all, there were consistent questions early in Yoo's career on whether the lefty who threw slower than high school hurlers could last even a couple of years in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).

Yoo, who held his retirement press conference Thursday, is leaving with 11 KBO seasons to his name, along with a 101-69 record and a 4.58 ERA in 281 appearances.

"Even now, I can't believe I am retiring, but it's an honor just to have this retirement presser," Yoo said at Jamsil Baseball Stadium, the place he called home for over a decade. "I feel like I've worked so hard to get to this point. I am very happy to have been a baseball player."

Yoo was always one of the slowest pitchers in the league, but he got by with guile, painting the zone with his sinkers and fastballs that barely touched even 130 kilometers per hour (80.8 miles per hour).

Yoo said he enjoyed his reputation as the crafty lefty who mastered the art of pitching and who didn't let lack of velocity get in his way. Yoo reached double figures in wins every season from 2013 to 2020, including a career-high 18 in 2015. Yoo won Korean Series titles in 2015, 2016 and 2019.

"I had some doubts about myself, whether I could make it as a pro with such a slow fastball," Yoo said. "But I always worked so hard behind the scenes, and Doosan gave me the platform to succeed."

Last year, Yoo became the first left-hander in Bears' history to reach 100 career wins. But it also happened to be his worst season as a starter. He posted a 7.71 ERA in 63 innings with a 4-7 record in 15 starts. Yoo was left off the postseason roster as the Bears reached their seventh consecutive Korean Series.

Yoo said he saw the writing on the wall then.

"Every player has to retire at some point. I was terrible last year and spent a lot of time in the minor league," Yoo said. "And then I was not part of the postseason. As I was watching young pitchers excel in the postseason, I thought it was now time for me to get out of their way."

Yoo said he has not decided on what he will do in his post-playing career. Long known for his quick wit and everyman charm, the glib one said he has already received offers from three major networks to work as a color commentator. He is weighing his options between broadcasting and possibly coaching.

Yoo said he will never forget his first victory, which came on May 4, 2013, against the LG Twins. Yoo recited the exact date and opponent of that game, which he started as a last-minute replacement for the then ace, Dustin Nippert.

"I am most proud of winning at least 10 games in eight straight years," Yoo said. "I am also proud of winning over 100 games. And I couldn't have done it alone. I am able to leave the game with these numbers thanks to my teammates and coaches."

With 101 wins, Yoo fell eight wins shy of tying the franchise record for pitching wins, held by Jang Ho-yeon.

"I didn't play this game trying to set records, but I wanted to set the franchise mark," Yoo said. "Though I wasn't able to break this record, I hope younger guys will be able to step up and surpass that total."

Asked what sport he would play for a living if he were born again, Yoo quipped, "I'd play anything except baseball."

"I've always been good at ball sports," said Yoo, who won a three-point shooting contest at the women's basketball All-Star Game in 2020. "I think I would have been a pretty good athlete in another sport. In this life, I dedicated myself to baseball. It's now time for me to put this game behind me."

(END)

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