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The Man in the Middle: Curtis Jung

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BH: Where are you from?

CJ: I was born in Seoul, but our family moved to the States when I was 9. I’ve lived in Los Angeles most of my life.

BH: Do you have family here?

CJ: I have one aunt and three uncles on my dad’s side, two uncles and two aunts on my mom’s side. They are all here in
Korea. Most of them live in Seoul. My uncle on my mom’s side live the closest in Daegu. Unfortunately, it’s hard for me to see any of them during the season.

BH: Did you play baseball?

CJ: I played baseball all my life. I played in all the summer leagues when I was little, high school baseball at Glendale HS, college baseball at Cal State Los Angeles and professional baseball with the Haitai Tigers in Korea. I was a pitcher.

BH: How did you get into the job of translating? When?

CJ: This was something that was totally unexpected. I was happily working for the Los Angeles Dodgers when this opportunity came along. I was in charge of scouting in Asia (Korea, Japan and Taiwan) for the Dodgers. Jerry got the offer to manage the Lotte Giants in the winter of 2007. After that, we had many conversations about Korea, Korea Baseball Organization, Lotte Giants and whatever else he was curious about. I even recommended some names for the position I have now. Unfortunately….or fortunately for me none of those guys worked out and they ended up offering me the job. After much deliberation, I accepted the job in early January of 2008 and came to Korea about a week later.

BH: How long have you been translating in baseball?

CJ: If you grow up bilingual in Los Angeles, you’re going to have some interpreting experiences. It was a natural progression when I got into baseball. I interpreted for my Korean teammates and coaches with the Haitai Tigers when we would train in Hawaii. I also helped out the Tigers front office during my playing days. My first year with the Dodgers was in 2000. That wasn’t my official role, but it sure came in handy. Los Angeles has a huge Korean community, which we were active in. The Dodgers also had a lot of dealings with people from Korea. In most cases, I was involved with all of those events/dinners/meetings, etc. I also interpreted for executives and scouts that would make a visit to Korea. Tommy Lasorda visited one year, which was fun and nerve-wracking at the same time. I also interpreted for Choi Hee-Seop and Seo Jae-Woong during their time with the Dodgers.

BH: It must be interesting translating the times when Jerry is arguing a call with the umpire. Considering Confucian etiquette, do you tone down Jerry’s words or do you give it like it is? Can you give us an example?

CJ: I guess “interesting” is one way of putting it. Using an interpreter is an art. You have to know not to speak for too long and give the interpreter a chance to interpret. Jerry is very good at speaking through an interpreter and he and I are in sync….most of the time. Sometimes that can all go out the window when the conversation gets a little heated. But there is no need for me to tone anything down. Jerry’s voice might go up a notch or two, but he doesn’t get out of line or cross the line. But a lot of times, I will yell alongside Jerry. An umpire told me once to stop yelling and that I didn’t need to get excited like the manager. But sometimes, I get caught in the moment and I find myself yelling just like Jerry.

BH: What is the biggest difference between baseball here and back in the States?

CJ: Wow….let me think for a minute. I think the cultural differences impacts the game differently. I love the Korean culture, especially the sunbae/hoobae relationship. And in baseball, you are always someone’s sunbae or hoobae. A fraternity might be the best way to describe it to someone from the States. Everyone is everyone’s brother. And baseball is a very tight-knit fraternity in Korea. I think this is a big part of the reason why you don’t see a lot of the physical plays you can see in the States. You rarely see a runner crashing into the catcher at homeplate. You rarely see a runner taking a hard slide into second base to break up the double play. You don’t see a lot of pitchers brushing back the hitters to get a message across. In the States, all of the plays mentioned are expected from both teams and they don’t think twice about it after it happens. But if a physical play like that happens here, it can be talked about for days.

BH: How would you compare Jerry’s coaching style with that of other coaches in the KBO?

CJ: Well…let’s just say that they are very different. I think culture has a lot to do with this also. The emphasis on age is very important in Korea and there are certain social guidelines to follow. Along with the great knowledge of the game and experience, Jerry also has the advantage of not having to follow these guidelines. I think this helps him tremendously in forming special relationships with the players and make it easier to teach. The Korean players would never think to approach their managers and joke around with them like they do with Jerry.

BH: What do you see yourself doing five years from now? Still in baseball or something else?

CJ: Sitting at home polishing my Lotte Giants championship rings? I’m not sure exactly what I see myself doing in five years. But I’m pretty certain it would be something in baseball. I’ve been in baseball all my life and the only real jobs I’ve had are in the baseball industry. If I’m not working for the Lotte Giants, I imagine I would

Photo by Bobby McGill

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