When Lee Kang-chul, manager of the KT Wiz and the South Korean national baseball team, found out this week that his KT reliever Ju Kwon will pitch for his native China at the upcoming World Baseball Classic (WBC), he quipped that he hoped the right-hander wouldn’t pitch against South Korea in the tournament.
Lee said that in jest, but he will get his wish.
Ju, who was born in China but became a Korean citizen in 2007, told Yonhap News Agency on Wednesday that he will not take the mound against South Korea in Pool B action of the WBC on March 13 at Tokyo Dome. Throughout the phone conversation, Ju referred to South Korea as “my country.”
“If I had been selected to the South Korean national team, I would definitely have represented my country at the WBC,” Ju said. “When China and my country face each other, I will not pitch in that game.”
Ju added: “It’s the least I can do for manager Lee Kang-chul, who allowed me to participate in the WBC. I will do my best against Japan and other teams in the competition.”
The WBC has loose regulations that allow players to represent countries of their parents’ birth, even if the players themselves are not citizens of those countries. Ju also pitched for China at the 2017 WBC. South Korea will likely have at least one such player in St. Louis Cardinals infielder Tommy Edman, who was born in Michigan to an American father and a Korean mother.
Ju, 27, has been one of the better relievers in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) over the past four years. In that four-year stretch, Ju has pitched to a 3.16 ERA across 245 innings and is tied with the LG Twins reliever Jung Woo-young for the most holds in the league with 98.
Though he wasn’t even considered for South Korea’s initial “interest list” in November, the Chinese Baseball Association came calling early. 안전놀이터
Ju said he turned down the first offer from China in October because he didn’t want to deal with the kind of vitriol that he’d faced in 2017 for pitching for China. But the Chinese officials reached out again after a couple of weeks, and it wasn’t until Monday that Ju got the permission from the Wiz to join China.
“Honestly, it took me a long time to make up my mind because I was afraid of fans’ criticism,” Ju said. “I was deeply hurt then. But at the same time, I didn’t want to give up a chance to pitch on such a big stage just because of criticism from people. I wanted to test myself against the best players when I am in the prime years of my career.”
Blaming Ju for turning his back on South Korea is senseless, considering that he is far from the only player who will represent countries of which they are not citizens. Edman, for instance, isn’t taking heat for abandoning the United States.
“It breaks my heart, but I understand where those people are coming from,” Ju said of his detractors. “It’s something that I have to bear.”