Golden Fishery – Shin Soo Choo Part 2
Posted April 19, 2011on:
Episode 210 (Part 2)
This episode starts with the guru asking Choo about his famous baseball playing uncle Park Chung Tae. Park is one of the more famous players out of Busan City and played for the Lotte Giants for 18 years before becoming a coach for its minor league team. Choo really looked up to his uncle and began playing baseball because of him. (He’d be my favorite uncle too if I could parade him around to my friends and make myself king of the neighborhood).
While Choo began playing ball in the 3rd grade, his father began training him since he was a baby. Choo tells the guru that his father never held him and at 100 days old, his dad would make him hold his dad’s thumbs and hang from them as exercise. I smell an urban legend worthy of snopes. His dad is however legendary for his training methods. They called his dad’s tactics worthy of Silmido, a movie based on the true story of a secret military group trained using brutal and inhuman methods to infiltrate the north.
In high school, Choo met his coach Cho Sun Oak. This guy made his father look nice and forced Choo and his teammates to train day and night with tires on his back, making them run immediately after meals. For three years, Choo never had a single day of rest. All that training must have payed off because he lead his team to the 2000 national little league championships.
Choo really respected his coach and in November of 2010, Choo came back to Korea to pay respects to him. At the columbarium, there were several videos of Choo crying and being comforted by his father.
He’s not around now but he really loved baseball…even if he had a bit of money, he’d use it to buy snacks for us and treated us all like our sons. Calling him my second father isn’t enough to express how I feel about him. And just as things were looking good for him, he ended up dying. I felt like I didn’t do anything for him and I cried a lot because of that. So I took my gold medal and went to give my respects to him.
In 2001, he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners. One of the scouts was a close friend of his coach and even though other teams were scouting him, he ended up choosing the Mariners because they showed more interest in him. It was a difficult transition for him. He only knew the alphabet and had to have a translator. It was frustrating for Choo since he wasn’t able to communicate with anyone, couldn’t understand anything on the tv and didn’t have any friends. At a fast food restaurant all he could ever order was a “Number 1.” The cashier would ask him what he wanted to drink and he’d answer “Number 1.” To go and to say? “Number 1!” Regardless of the question, the only thing Choo could say was “Number 1.” After two years he decided to get rid of his translator and learn the language.
It was actually his minor league teammates that helped him improve his language skills. When they would go to a restaurant, they would order for him but the next time around, he’d have to order for himself and the entire table. Because of their help, his English improved dramatically.
During his time in the minors, the coaches wanted him to switch from a pitcher to a batter. They saw that he had the makings of a 5-tool player (possessing the talent to hit for power and average, being an above average defender, and having above average arm strength and above average speed. thanks wiki) and wanted to take advantage of that.
Choo readily agreed and practiced days and night catching, fielding, and batting. While he agreed to change positions there were many times he questioned his decision. It was a struggle for him. He was being paid $500/two weeks and had to room with 7-8 guys to make ends meet. While he was in Seattle, he missed his girlfriend (now his wife) so much that he convinced her to fly to the states and live with him, two of his teammates, and their girlfriends in a two bedroom apartment.
Choo met his wife in 2003, while in Korea. A buddy of his convinced him to come meet some girls but he wasn’t feeling the vibe and fell asleep on a couch. When he woke up he said (not my words) “I thought an angel had passed by.” From that moment he knew he had be with her and for the next two months the two were inseparable. From dusk to dawn, the two spent every minute together which obviously did not sit well with the girl’s father. Eventually Choo was called to his girlfriend’s home where Choo made a bold request to her father.
In a month I’m going to have to leave for America and I want to spend every minute I have left with her. Would it be okay for her to stay with me?
Imagine being her dad. Choo wasn’t even asking for her hand in marriage. He just wanted her to stay with him for the remaining month he had left in Korea. But her dad was cool about the whole thing and let her stay with Choo for the remainder of that time. Choo was 21 (20 in American age) and to pull that off at such a young age was so smooth that the guru jokes “wow you’re a player” to which Choo responds “baseball player.”
And in an moment of saccharine love, Choo says that even if he was born again he’d marry her and from the moment he could crawl he’d find his way to her. Eventually the two married and had two lovely children. However, they’ve never had a wedding and Choo hopes that he can have two. One in Korea and another on the baseball field in front of the home crowd.
Getting back to baseball, in 2006 Choo got his chance to play in the majors. But because he played the same position as Ichiro, there really wasn’t any opportunities for him to play. No matter how well he did there was no way the team would bench Ichiro for him. So he was sent back to the minors and subsequently traded to the Indians.
Before he accepted the trade, he asked whether he would be playing in the majors and the Indians promised he would. The first game that he played as an Indians was ironically against the Mariners, the same team that let him go. Choo didn’t care if he sucked for the remainder of his time as an Indian but he just wanted to make sure that he did well that day. He ended up hitting a home run and winning the game for the team 1-0.
He spent most of the first season with the Indians recovering from Tommy John surgery and playing in the minors. He contemplated coming back to Korea because it was such a struggle for him. He talked to his wife about leaving but she eventually convinced him to stay in the States. Good thing he listened to his wife because he moved on to become one of Cleveland’s biggest stars.
One of the more interesting facts I learned from Choo was that there is a huge difference between the minors and majors. In the majors, everyone waits on you hand and foot. Things are done faster, more efficiently and with better service. In the major leagues even if you don’t play, you’re paid $1,500 for that day. That’s more than what he was getting paid a month as a minor league player.
Another difference is the food. There are several leagues in baseball. Rookie league, single A, double A, triple A, and the major leagues. As a rookie, you get two rows of sliced bread, peanut butter and jelly. In single A you get grape jelly too. Once you make it to double A you get some meat like chicken. In triple A there’s steak. But in the majors, its a buffet. A sushi station, every kind of jam you can imagine, levels of hot sauce and the meat melts in your mouth. I imagine that’s why players strive even more to get to the majors.
Also, when traveling in the minor leagues they all have to ride buses whether its 2 hours or 15 hours. In the majors, the workers fold your uniforms perfectly and pack your bags for you. The players get ready to leave while the bags leave separately for the plane. You then take a bus not to the airport but to the front door of the plane. Inside, everyone gets three seats for themselves and while us peons would have to turn off our phones and put our seatbelts on, the players get up to drink, play cards and relax.
However, there are differences even between the majors. The Yankees are known to have a huge locker room and every locker has their own safe and computer. Choo admitted he was jealous of the swag, especially the fact that there are electrical outlets. For some reason he seemed to be obsessed with finding outlets for his laptop.
As one the older more seasoned members, Choo now gets the best locker and has the younger players coming to him for advice which gives him a sense of pride. Also when he sees American fans holding up signs written in Korean he feels a sense of responsibility to play even harder and better. One of his dreams is that even after he retires, people will remember him as a hard worker. Someone who tried their hardest at everything. If people remember him that way, he thinks he’ll have no regrets once he leaves the game.
Finally the interview comes to an end and the guru gives him some advice:
Being a father your son can be proud of is also being a good dad. Work hard and make him and Korea proud.
The interview was around an hour and a half long but considering the amount of editing that took place, I’m sure the actual interview was longer. I’m curious as to what they left out. I actually followed Choo when he first debuted as an Indian but lost track after he went to the minors.
I didn’t know much about him but for some pictures of him and his wife. At first I thought they were the typical snotty Seoul couple but I was way off the mark. They seem pretty down to earth and the fact that he has a Busan accent (which is like having a southern accent) makes him even more adorable.
And yes he really does seem to adore his wife THAT much. http://youtu.be/4bDnTuaLze0