BUSAN, South Korea — Last year was a turbulent one for the Lotte Giants. They finished fourth in the league with a 66-63-6 record, which are good stats for fourth place, but fans won’t soon forget their disappointment in the playoffs against SK. The Giants lost the best-of-five series, falling short in their bid to make their first finals appearance since 1999.
Following a rocky offseason which included the firing of manager Yang Seung-ho, the departures of import pitcher Ryan Sadowski, outfielder Kim Joo-chan and fan favorite Hong Seung-hoon, the fate of Lotte this season brings a lot of speculation of what new manager Kim Si-jin has in store at Sajik this year. One thing’s for sureââthis year’s squad will look much different. And now that spring training has come to an end, it’s time for the real work to begin to bring the city its first championship in a long 20 years.
A key bright spot last season was the acquisition of 33-year-old American starting pitcher, Shane Youman. Nobody quite knew what to expect from the Iberia, Louisiana native when he reached the peninsula in 2012, but by the end of the year, a season which saw him lead the team in almost every statistical pitching category, including a 13-7 record, with 142 strikeouts and a 2.55 ERA in 179 2/3 innings, he came out of nowhere to become not only the ace of the staff, but one of the most dominant pitchers in the league. His season was also highlighted by a one-hit gem on April 30 against LG, which saw him strikeout seven.
Haps caught up with Lotte’s star pitcher recently to talk about his offseason, the new changes at Lotte, and what it’s like to be Shane Youman.
What did you do in the offseason? Did you concentrate on any specific things to improve your game?
First off, I got some much needed rest being that I didn’t get much from the end of my 2011 season leading up to me signing with Lotte, and joining the team shortly after winter ball. I also went through some extensive training to get stronger, and gain a little size so that I can maintain my strength and endurance throughout the season, unlike last year where I wore down a little.
Lotte fans were angered by the losses of Hong Seung-hoon and Kim Joo-chan this offseason. How do you think it will affect the club?
I was upset also, but that’s the business of the game. We’ll miss them both dearly, but we have guys returning from last season ready to step up, and pick up the slack. I don’t know if it will be in the form of homers, and stolen bases, but hopefully it will be in ways that translate into scoring runs which is all that matters. The addition of Jang Seung-ho should help out greatly also. He’s a veteran player, and he knows what to do with a bat.
Any goals or predictions for this season?
As far as goals, and predictions go, personally, I just want to improve in every statistical category from last season. Other than that, I just want to stay strong and healthy for the entire season, and help us get over that hump, make it to the Korean Series, and win the title.
How do you think the managerial change will affect the players?
Not sure. It’s a little too early to tell, but hopefully the managerial change with a few new coaches impacts us in a positive way. Our manager seems pretty down to earth, and very knowledgeable about the game of baseball. He’s very quiet, and businesslike which is a sign that he’s focused on getting us ready to win ball games. It will take us all a little time to adjust and get to know each other, but in the end it should be beneficial to the whole team.
Now that your in your second year in the league, do you feel more comfortable with the daily life of Korean baseball?
Yeah, you can say that. Last year took me a little time to adjust, but in the end it was all worth it. This year I know what to expect, especially when it comes to the games, team meetings, the fans, and overall knowing how to conduct myself on-and-off the field. I have my favorite areas to visit and foods I enjoy eating. Just looking to have as much fun this year as I did last year.
What’s the biggest difference between baseball in the States and in Korea?
The biggest difference I believe here in Korea is the coaches control the game a lot more than they do in the Statesââespecially early on. Also, there’s a lot of situational/small ball played here, unlike in the US, where teams look to have the big inning more times than not.
How do you prepare mentally on game day?
On game day, I’m really quiet. I also like to, if possible, after I have lunch, go to a mall, and walk around a bit just to kill a little time. After that, I’ll either head back to the hotel, or my apartment. I usually like to head to the stadium about two hours prior to game time and from there, I’ll get dressed, grab a snack, and go over scouting reports with the other pitchers, catchers, and coaches. Afterwards, I like to get my mind focused on the game, so I listen to music to zone out before going out to get ready to pitch.
With Ryu Sung-jin signing with the Dodgers, do you think there are any other players in the league who are ready to make the jump to the majors? How do you think Ryu will fare there?
Ryu signing with the Dodgers was very historic for the simple fact that he’s the first Korean player to sign an MLB contract straight from the KBO. With that being said, I do believe there are quite a few players in the league that can possibly make the jump to the majors. I do believe that it will depend on how Ryu does his first year, or two, at the major league level. I think he will do quite well. He has the makeup and attitude of a big leaguer.
Finally, what’s a day in the life of Shane Youman like?
Man, the day in the life of me huh? Well, it depends on the day, where I am, and the weather (ha ha). Mainly, I just like to chill, and enjoy either comedy, or cop shows. Mainly cop shows. Other than that, I’ll cook from time to time and get out to do a little sightseeing. I occasionally read and do a little shopping too.
You can check out the entire Giants 2013 schedule, follow the Giants on their official homepage in Korean, or the Haps Giants English page here. For more baseball information, you can follow the Korean Baseball Organization in English from the best source of the league at mykbo.net. You can also check out Phillip Riccobono’s podcast and website’ComingToAmericaBaseball‘ about Asian baseball on iTunes.