The seventh game of the season between the Kiwoom Heroes and the KIA Tigers took place at the Gocheok SkyDome in Seoul on the 13th. In the top of the first inning, the away team, KIA, batted second, and a loud cheer erupted. It was a welcoming response for Choi Won-jun (26), who was making his first-team comeback after 18 months of military service (Commercial Baseball Organization).
Choi, who rose to the top of KIA’s outfield in 2020, fulfilled his leadoff duties in 2021, batting .295 with a .370 on-base percentage, 82 runs scored and 40 stolen bases. He’s a quality hitter and baserunner. He had a successful comeback against Kiwoom on the 13th, going 2-for-4 with a double. He will be playing first base for the time being, as there is currently no room in the KIA outfield.
KIA manager Kim Jong-guk watched Choi Won-jun’s batting practice before the game and said, “His face is whiter and his body is slimmer than before he enlisted. I guess he hasn’t been working out as hard.” He laughed. Although he was joking, he seemed to be concerned that he was thinner than before. In fact, Choi, who weighed 83 to 84 kilograms before enlisting, now weighs 81 kilograms.
Most players who lack long-hitting power try to bulk up during their military service to gain weight and muscle mass. KT Wiz pitcher Uhm 스포츠토토 Sang-baek, who has a right-handed side arm, and Lotte Giants outfielder Ko Seung-min are representative players who have proven the effectiveness of bulking up.
Choi, who hit just 15 home runs in 544 games before joining the military, also tried to bulk up throughout last year to compensate for his lack of power. He remained in the 90-kilogram range until the beginning of this year.
He tried to lose weight again and returned to the 80-kilogram range because he thought it was more desirable to enhance his strengths than to compensate for his weaknesses.
“Previously, I wanted to develop my long batting power, but (playing in the Future League this season) I realized that the best baseball I can play is to run fast and play with strength, so I lost weight again,” Choi explained.
Choi also made changes to his batting stance and mechanics in the Futures League this season. The idea was to improve his long ball power. He realized that it would be difficult to experiment in practice once he returned to his club and started playing first team games. “I was a few months away from being discharged from the military, so I tried a lot of new things at the plate. I had a lot of desire to improve, and I felt like I would regret it if I stayed the same,” he recalls.
The bottom line is to get back on track. By getting greedy about producing long balls, he felt like he was compromising his ability to make contact. “In the end, in the two or three weeks I played in the Futures League before I went over, I was back to hitting the same way I did in the 2021 season,” Choi explained.
In 18 short months, both his body and technique have changed, but he’s back to square one. But it was through trial and error that he was able to define the game he wanted to play.
“I don’t think I can be competitive in the first team if I only play the kind of baseball I want to play,” Choi said. The baseball I need to play for the team (KIA) is to maximize my mobility,” he said.
KIEA has Park Chan-ho, who led the league in stolen bases (42) last season (2022), and Kim Do-young, who had 13 stolen bases despite playing as a backup. Add to that Choi Won-jun. Manager Kim Jong-kook may be able to use them more often than before.