Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Q&A: War, Korea, and Sadowski

Hope everyone's Memorial Day went well. Since a large number of our veterans served in the Korean War between 1950 and 1953, I thought this would be a good time to mix War, Korea, and Ryan Sadowski (Yes, Giants' fans, he's still alive). He's my best bud after all, and he's in Korea. And I've hardly mentioned him in months.

Sadowski's currently playing for the Lotte Giants in South Korea after briefly playing for the San Francisco Giants last season (no escape from the Gigantes). He has a very keen eye for things, and so I wanted to get his perspective not only on Korean baseball, but also on the ongoing crisis between North Korea and South Korea, specifically as it relates to baseball players.

Here goes:

GB: What has been the hardest thing about playing in another country, specifically about playing in S. Korea?

RS: The most difficult part of being a foreign player in the KBO are the expectations that are set before you arrive. I had a sub-par start in my first month and was battling some elbow discomfort and people were ready to send me home. After some rest (I skipped 1 start) and 5 consecutive quality starts, everybody loves me...for now.

GB: Has the level of baseball been what you expected?

RS: I really didn't know what to expect. I have heard people say that this compared to AA baseball and others say that it compares to AAAA baseball (above Triple A/below MLB). Players do things that would be considered Bush League back home on a regular basis. They watch home-runs constantly and fist pump after strikeouts in blowouts. They lean into pitches and draw lines for umpires, but all of that is okay here.

The top level of players are major league players. It explains their success in the olympics and WBC. Other younger players would be considered top prospects in the minor leauges. LHP Ryu Hyun Jin stands out, and would probably be a major league superstar. He won the gold medal game against Cuba as a 22 year old. He's 24 now and is impressive to watch. He struck out 17 in a game earlier this year.

I guess the only way we will know is if the Milb creates a AAAA league and sends them to Korea.

GB: Moving to the ongoing event between the two Koreas. Do players discuss these sorts of things in the clubhouse? In the States, political events aren't really discussed by players too much. Try turning from MTV to CNN and you'll get food thrown at you. But this isn't just a political event. This involves, as you once told me, people of the same blood living across an arbitrary line. I'm sure there are some mixed emotions?

RS: I guess I have the mentality of a Korean. I really don't like to think about it. Americans are much more confrontational than Koreans are. Before Japan attacked Korea in the early 1900's, Korea had been a peaceful nation for over 500 years. It's tough to find a time in American history where there were 50 years without war. Actually, it may not exist. Nobody here wants to see war. I think everybody on the team is well aware of the situation, but they don't want to think about it. Today, there was an unexpected fireworks show after the game. My pants are going to need some extra bleach.

GB: In Korea I've read that all males are subject to conscription laws. Have many of your teammates served in the military? Are some of them approaching the time constraints before which they must serve?

RS: Most of the older players have served in the military. I have talked to a few of them about their service. Most went through basic training and had standard military jobs. My Korean is limited, but I have talked to one player about his time in the military and he was a driver of large trucks.

There are 2 standout players that still need to serve in the military. Our starting shortstop who has the defensive ability to be a starting shortstop on any major league team will have to serve after this season. One of out starting LHP's is 23. He throws 87-91 with a devestating slider. He would be a AAA prospect in a good organization or may be in the big leagues with a team that is developing talent at the ML level.

Nobody in Korea is exempt from serving in the military. If a player wins a gold medal at the Asian games or any medal at the Olympics, he can avoid full time military service. That person must go through basic training in the off-season and serves in something similar to the reserves in the US.

After somebody has done their 2 full years of military service, they are a member of the group that is similar to the reserves for the next 7 years. If war were to start, I think many of my teamates would be called into action.

GB: Has anything changed on the streets as this has unfolded? I assume people are still living their lives as usual? Has attendance suffered?

RS: The threat of fighting has existed in Korea for the past 57 years. I think people have learned to live with it. Nothing has changed since I have been here. I'm sure people are a bit more aware of the situation at hand, but they still show up to our games ready to go nuts. The fans in Korea think a baseball game is an event similar to American Football or Soccer in South America or Europe.

Thanks to Ryan for that. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail, and one of my best friends will arrive home safely in a couple of months.

If you'd like to learn more about Sadowski's experiences in the KBO be sure to check out his video blog on YouTube. He post it every single day under the name "Incugator." There's some good stuff there.