“My friends and I stayed up late talking about baseball, and we were all talking about how much we learned from this tournament and how we really need to work harder.”
That’s what Kim Hwi-jip (21-Keum Heroes) said after the 2023 Asian Professional Baseball Championship (APBC) after his home run against Japan. South Korea finished as runners-up for the second consecutive APBC, falling 3-4 in extra innings to Japan in the final at the Tokyo Dome on Nov. 19, but the experience was not in vain.
The Korean baseball team, led by Ryu Jung-il (60), arrived at Gimpo International Airport on Tuesday afternoon after a flight from Haneda Airport in Tokyo, Japan.
The team didn’t arrive until 11 p.m. after all the post-final events and interviews the previous day. According to Kim Hui-jip and Kim Dong-heon (19-KIUM), who we met at the departure hall of Haneda Airport, the players spent their last night in Tokyo in their own way due to the late hour. While some players went straight to bed, Kim, Kim Ju-won (21-NC Dinos) and Lee Yi-ri (21-KIA Tigers) spent the night in a room with their peers, sharing their thoughts on the tournament. 캡틴토토 주소
“We all learned a lot from the tournament and realized that we really need to work harder,” Kim said. “If we take hitters as an example, the Japanese players’ approaches were different from ours. They had their own balance and made the most of their swings. That helped me a lot as a hitter, and as a pitcher, how to deal with more precise batting when the ball count is high, and we talked about this and decided to grow. We said, “Let’s go back to Korea and prepare hard, not only for the popularity of the KBO, but also for ourselves.
The team departed the hotel at 9 a.m. for their 12:25 p.m. flight, and were met by Korean fans at Haneda Airport who had gathered to watch the tournament and return home. After completing all departure formalities at around 11 a.m., the team was bombarded with autograph and photo requests from fans, young and old alike, for 50 minutes at the airport. The players were all in good spirits, including pitcher Jung Hae-young (22-KIA), who got the winning hit in the final game. “Everyone is cheerful except me,” Jung said, adding, “It’s actually a joke, and everyone told me about the situation yesterday (Nov. 19), ‘It couldn’t be helped, it’s okay’. I did the same, so I’m fine now,” he smiled broadly.
With the exception of coach Ryu Jung-il, the team traveled home in economy class, mingling with the general public. The seats were a bit cramped for their size, but they all smiled and said, “It’s okay, it’s only a two-hour flight.” After takeoff, most athletes slept with their headsets on, while others chatted with their teammates who happened to be seated next to them.
As soon as the plane touched down in Gimpo at around 3 p.m., there was a brief buzz among the players as they activated the internet and checked their phones for news of free agent Ahn Chi-hong (33) joining the Hanwha Eagles. When Yoon Dong-hee (20-Lotte Giants) heard the news from a reporter, he was surprised: “(Ahn) Chi-hong is with Hanwha? Wow….”, and throughout the immigration process, the players chatted about Ahn’s move to Hanwha.
After loading their personal luggage and equipment onto carts, the team scattered across the country, with some players getting tired of waiting for their luggage, asking, “Is it out yet?” Son Sung-bin (21), who plays for Lotte but has a family in Gyeonggi Province, decided to take a day off and head down to Busan, while Choi Jun-yong (22) said, “There’s no point in staying in Seoul, I have too much luggage, so I’m going to take a plane right from here (Gimpo Airport) to Busan.” Others, like Kim Hwi-jip and Oh Won-seok (22-SSG Landers), are participating in their teams’ final training sessions with just a few days to go. They will be doing recovery training in Goyang and Incheon, respectively.
The players, who were warmly welcomed by a large number of fans at the arrival gate, will rest for two to three days before returning to their season preparations for the KBO League and international competitions that will continue next year. “I think more than half of the members of this tournament will be in the national team next year,” said coach Ryu Jung-il in an interview after returning home. “This tournament must have given them a lot of confidence. However, we shouldn’t be satisfied here.”
The tournament, which took place from January 16-19, featured players from South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Australia who were 24 years old or younger (born on or after January 1, 1999) or within their third year of playing (born after 2021), as well as up to three wildcard players who were 29 years old or younger (born on or after January 1, 1994), and South Korea reached the final with a 2-1 record before falling to Japan.
Despite the loss, the Korean players put on a great performance against Japan that was praised by the coaches of both teams. Kwak Bin (24, Dusan Bears) was not intimidated at all in the final against Japan in front of a near sellout crowd of 41,883 (42,300 Tokyo Dome capacity), giving Korea a one-run lead midway through the first five innings with five hits (one home run), three walks and six strikeouts. Noh Si-hwan (23-Hanwha Eagles) hit a leadoff single and finished the tournament with a .412 (7-for-17) batting average with three RBIs and a 1.003 OPS.
First baseman Noh Si-hwan and shortstop Kim Joo-won were named to the tournament’s Best Nine by Japanese media outlets. Other positions included catcher Alex Hall (AUS), second baseman Makoto Kadawaki, third baseman Teruaki Sato, outfielders Shota Morishita, Chusei Mannami (Japan) and Tenshin Guo (Taiwan), and pitcher Chihiro Sumida (Japan). Japan had the most Best Nine players on the winning team with five, South Korea and Taiwan had two each, and Australia had one. Kadawaki was named the tournament MVP for his game-winning hit.
After the final, head coach Ryu Jung-il said, “We played a great game. It’s a bit disappointing to come from behind, but both teams played really well. I would like to applaud the players of both teams.” “We won, but by a very small margin,” said Japan’s head coach Hirokazu Ibata. Both games were good games that I wouldn’t be surprised if Korea won. There were a lot of things we need to learn.”