Head coach Kim Tae-hyung’s nail-bited ‘Jujeon’… 8 billion catcher’s ‘hunting two rabbits’ after reading hidden ‘message’

“I think you have enough messages”

Lotte Giants’ first recruitment last winter was by far the “Mrs. Ahn.” This is because he has been troubled by catcher concerns ever since he let Kang Min-ho go after the end of the 2017 season. Lotte collected several promising players through rookie drafts, but it was never easy to foster resources to wear catcher’s masks as a “main match” as experience is more important than any other position. As a result, after the opening of the FA (Free Agent) market, he held Yoo Kang-nam for a total of 8 billion won for four years.

At that time, a total of four catcher resources came to the market in the FA market. Yang Eui-ji, who was called the “biggest fish” at the time, Yoo Kang-nam, who joined Lotte, Park Dong-won, who moved to the LG Twins in a surprise move, and Park Se-hyuk, who switched uniforms with Yang Eui-ji. Lotte joined hands with Yoo Kang-nam, 꽁머니환전 who played more than 100 games for eight consecutive seasons after jumping to the starting lineup in the 2015 season with the evaluation that he has the best framing in the KBO League.

Yoo Kang-nam, who joined the Lotte Giants with high expectations, displayed disappointing performance in the first half of the year. Yoo had 16 hits and one homerun with a batting average of 0.232 OPS and 0.236 OPS with a batting average of 0.652 during the month of April. However, Yoo’s recruitment effect was evident elsewhere. It was the mound. Up until the early days of this season, he was not able to fully grasp Lotte pitchers, and he seemed to have difficulties breathing. Towards the end of April, however, they started to hit it off, and he helped Lotte to secure its ninth consecutive win in 15 years.

In the early part of the season, Yoo Kang-nam’s batting slump did not stand out as the balance between pitching and hitting was so good, but as the number of injuries began to increase in June and the team’s performance fell, the 8 billion catcher’s slump began to stand out. However, Yoo Kang-nam rarely escaped from his slump in June and recorded a batting average of 0.211 OPS, finishing the first half with 51 hits, five homers and 27 RBIs with a batting average of 0.233 OPS of 0.654. In particular, after the start of the second half, his performance in July was only 0.182 batting average.

It was in September that Yoo Kang-nam, who had been in a slump, began to have a sense of play. Yoo showed off his hot batting performance with 19 hits and two homers in September with a batting average of 0.388 OPS 1.045, and he also showed off his excellent performance with 14 hits and two homers with a batting average of 0.368 OPS 0.984 in October. Yoo had a batting average of 0.225, which he elevated to 0.261 for two months. However, his batting performance was revived only after the bus passed, and Lotte eventually failed to advance to the postseason for the sixth consecutive year.

What would it have been like to look back on the first season after changing his uniform through the FA? Yoo Kang-nam, who met at the spring camp in Guam, said, “It was a big blow. When our team was good at the beginning of the season, I didn’t perform well enough. At that time, I wished I could have been a little more supportive. I heard a lot that my batting average had increased when the final rankings of the season were decided, and it would have been a shame if the season ended with the previous results. I repeated my pledge to ‘rebound’ myself, and my goal is to continue the second half of that year to this year.”

The introduction of new rules such as Peach Clock and ABS have many things to pay attention to, but Yoo Kang-nam is putting a lot of effort into batting this time, as he was so disappointed last year. “I want to maintain the feeling of the second half of last year. So even when I was resting at home during the off-season, I prepared for this season by holding the bat and taking swings, and checking my balance. Still, it seems that he is maintaining the feeling of the second half of last year little by little. Since the training is held every day, the batting form may change a little due to the up-down of his physical condition, but I am preparing for this season by checking through videos.”

Yoo Kang-nam, a former LG Twins catcher who often encountered Kim Tae-hyung. How does it feel to have trained him? “He is very powerful. I feel he has some weight even without saying anything,” Yoo said with a smile. “I feel his spirit clearly.” Still, as he knew how hard the catchers were going through, he seemed to take care of them even at the camp. “The manager told me that the catchers were having a hard time because they had a lot of training. And he even brought me coffee. As a former catcher, he seems to care a lot about me.”

There are many changes in the KBO League this year. Fitzclock is introduced, and there are limits to the ABS system and defensive shifts that automatically determine strikes. From the catcher’s point of view, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of things to pay attention to. Yoo Kang-nam said, “When I installed the pitch clock and received the ball, it became very urgent. The moment the pitch clock left my hand and the pitcher caught the ball, I thought I should buy a little more time. Framing does not change its importance even if ABS is introduced. If pitchers feel anxious, they can’t throw their own ball. That’s why I think it’s important for pitchers to receive the ball so they’re not aware of ABS.”

At the beginning of the upcoming spring camp, Kim Tae-hyung nailed “Captain” Jeon Joon-woo, Yoon Dong-hee and Yoo Kang-nam as his starting players for the 2024 season. “Although you nailed it because you are the starting player, I think there is enough message in it,” Yoo said. “Rather than being complacent, I think there should be a sense of responsibility and burden,” he added. “It is important to continue the good feeling this year, as it was during the early last year.” I felt that Lotte is like this when I saw the fans filling up the stadium and cheering for me regardless of weekdays or weekends. If I keep a good feeling for a long time, I think my team’s performance will improve this year.”

Yoo is aiming to join the national team for the Premier 12 to be held in November along with the team’s performance this year. Yoo has never worn a national team uniform since he was a professional player. “My biggest goal is to wear the national flag on my chest if I am a baseball player. I have never worn the national flag since I was a teenager, but I have a great opportunity this year. If my team’s performance and individual performance come out well, I think this year will be a year where I can challenge my dream of becoming a national flag,” he said.

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