Back in 2003, while teaching English and studying Korean at Yonsei University in Seoul, Korean-American adoptee Dan Kurtz began MyKBO.net, an English-language website dedicated to the Korean Baseball Organization. What started as a message board for Western fans to discuss the league and find out basic info has evolved into the dominant source for Korean baseball news not only for fans, but also scouts and the international media.
Kurtz has since built the site to feature statistics, schedules, interviews and podcasts. He’s also the man responsible for uploading the now-famous video of South Korean gymnast Shin Soo-ji’s ridiculous Gumby-esque opening pitch at a Doosan-Samsung game, which went viral and garnered nearly 11 million views in its first week before reaching major media outlets like CBS Sports and CNN.
Haps caught up with Kurtz via email about his thoughts on the league, girl group opening pitches, the Shane Youman/Kim Tae-kyun controversy and his take on the Lotte Giants.
Has the KBO reached out to you, or do you hope to have any affiliation with them in the future?
I have never been contacted by the KBO for anything since the founding of MyKBO. I am always open to any relationship with the KBO. But until that day comes, I will continue running MyKBO on my own with no league affiliation.
You were the primary person responsible for making the Shin Soo-ji opening pitch video go viral. Did you expect that kind of reaction? Have you heard from her representatives or her herself about posting it?
I did not expect that sort of reaction to the video at all. To be fair, a Naver video link was originally posted on Reddit, but because not everyone can play videos from Naver, I simply uploaded the video to YouTube, added an English description and sent it out to two people in the sports web media (Yahoo’s Big League Stew and Deadspin). After those two sites posted up the video, it became a viral sensation and it was shown everywhere from MLB Network to CNN to Finnish TV to being featured on YouTube’s front page. I have not been in contact with Shin Soo-ji personally, but have talked with her marketing agency in Korea. They thanked me for uploading the video and helping to get Shin Soo-ji recognized across the world.
What do you make of these excessive opening pitches from the Girl Groups that turn into posing sessions before they actually throw the ball?
Living in the States and not being able to go to the games in person, I am only able to watch them online after the fact. Sometimes I shake my head in amazement at how much aegyo (??) some of them put into it, but at the same time, at least they’re maybe bringing some interest to the KBO from non-baseball fans. The one girl who I thought was great at throwing the first pitch was Lee Su-jung. She pitches from the rubber and has great form. I will admit, as a fan of Hyori, I am hoping with her latest comeback that she’ll throw out a first pitch at an upcoming KBO game.
Which Girl’s Generation pitch was worse – Jessica or Tiffany?
Jessica’s. While Tiffany’s was a Major League first pitch, it seems as though Jessica’s pitch at the LG game got more worldwide press. Their two pitches got me to look up a few videos to see if the entire group was bad at throwing first pitches. I finally found a video from a 2007 Doosan Bears game in which Yuri throws a nice pitch, submarine style (ala Lotte’s Chong Tae-hyon). My faith in Girls Generation pitching prowess was restored.
Ryu’s performance has been better than I expected. With him coming to a new country, culture, league, and team, I thought it may take him a bit to get adjusted on and off the field. I’m not sure how it’s going off-the-field (it seems like he’s adjusting) but on-field, he’s doing quite well. As someone who’s followed KBO for a bit, I was excited at the thought of him becoming the first player to go directly from the KBO to MLB. I am a Phillies fan, but I make sure I tune in to watch every Ryu start. I’m looking forward to continue watching him adjust to life in the big leagues and seeing how he does the rest of this year and the following years. One thing he seemed to know already is that the fans are your friends. The videos of Ryu playing catch with the kid in the stands are great and something that you don’t see everyday in the baseball world.
Who are the best players in the league right now?
Off the top of my head, I would say KIA’s Yoon Suk-min, Samsung’s Oh Seung-hwan, SK’s Choi Jeong and Nexen’s Park Byung-ho. Yoon is most likely going to try and sign with a Major League team this offseason. With Scott Boras as his agent and the recent success of Ryu Hyun-jin, Yoon certainly has his eyes on MLB. Oh Seung-hwan is the best closer in the league. His stellar performance in the WBC this past March was one of the lone bright spots for the Korean team. There’s been talk of him headed to Japan after his time with Samsung, but selfishly I’d like to see an MLB team sign him. I’d say that Choi Jeong and Park Byung-ho are some of the best non-pitchers in the league right now. Park Byung-ho was last year’s MVP and so far this season, he’s making a case to try and repeat that accomplishment. Choi Jeong is another player that I’d like to see get a shot in MLB. He’s an above-average fielder with a dangerous bat. A name to remember for the future would be NC Dinos rookie outfielder Na Sung-beom. So far this season, he’s shown that he can hit.
After the Shane Youman/Kim Tae-kyun incident, were you disappointed to find out the neither Lotte or Kim Tae-kyun really addressed the issues of racism and basically swept it under the rug?
I was extremely disappointed that Kim Tae-kyun did not apologize or even talk to Shane when the two teams played each other shortly after the controversy came about. Whether Kim thought his remarks were taken out of context or not, talking to Shane in person, even with the help of a translator, would’ve been the right thing to do, in my opinion. The issue came up in the media and thus I think Kim at least owed an explanation to Shane in person.
I was further disappointed that Lotte did not even address or talk about this with Shane after it became a story in the press. Why not ask him about the situation and see if he has any comments or suggestions for the team or league? Speaking of the league, why did they not step in and try to use this as a learning point for their players (both Korean and foreign)? I think it could’ve started some great dialogue between players, officials and even fans, and think it would be a great off-season workshop for players and league officials to attend.
Lotte’s handling of some of their top players the past few seasons has been interesting. They had success by having guys such as Lee Dae-ho, Hong Sung-heon, and Kim Joo-chan in the lineup. Why change that? The loss of those bats is one of the reasons why Lotte is currently the league worst in team batting average. I think the loss of some of these big names is also one of the reasons why fans are not turning out to Sajik as they once did. If Lotte had maybe opened up their wallets a little more, Dae-ho and others may still be hitting home runs out of Sajik for the Giants. When Lotte is winning and Sajik is sold out, the KBO as a league benefits.
Who do you see winning the title this year? Will Samsung win their third in a row or does anyone else have a chance?
The preseason favorite this year was the KIA Tigers, but so far they’ve had trouble staying consistent. Samsung’s just been doing what they’ve been doing the past few seasons, and that’s winning.
Nexen has been a pleasant surprise this year. They started off well last season too, but sputtered in the second half of the season. It will be interesting to see if Nexen is able to continue winning throughout the entire KBO season. But with all that said, I still think the Samsung Lions are the team to beat in 2013.