KBO postseason rookie trying to keep calm, rake at plate

INCHEON, Nov. 1 (Yonhap) — As a collegiate ball player four years ago, SSG Landers outfielder Choi Ji-hoon was watching the Korean Series at a bar with friends, watching the team that would draft him the next fall win the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) championship.

This week, Choi, now 25 and an everyday outfielder for the Landers, will make his KBO postseason debut in the championship round, with the team having earned a bye to this stage after winning the regular season title.

Moments before Game 1 of the best-of-seven series Tuesday, Choi said he might have been even more excited watching the team, then called the SK Wyverns, upset the top-seeded Doosan Bears in 2018 than he is now.

In this file photo from Sept. 30, 2022, Choi Ji-hoon of the SSG Landers celebrates after hitting a double against the Kiwoom Heroes during the bottom of the sixth inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Incheon SSG Landers Field in Incheon, just west of Seoul. (Yonhap)

“That series left such a lasting impression on me. And I remember wondering, ‘Will I ever get to that stage?'” Choi told reporters at Incheon SSG Landers Field in Incheon, just west of Seoul. “Now that I am here, it hasn’t really hit me yet that I am in the Korean Series.”

Choi played all 144 games in the regular season, and led the Landers with 93 runs scored and 31 steals. He said he tried not to change his mindset or approach while preparing for the Korean Series.

The Landers last played on Oct. 8 and enjoyed nearly a full month of break afforded the regular season champions before the start of the championship round.

“Things have never gone my way whenever I’ve tried to do too much,” Choi said. “So I’ve been sticking to the same routines.”

Choi, who cut a relaxed figure in the media scrum inside the first base dugout, said he took some advice from his veteran teammates to heart. In their previous incarnation as the Wyverns, the Landers franchise won Korean Series titles in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2018, and key members of all or at least some of those championship teams are still around.

“They’ve told me these games are just bonus and said how much fun they had when they were my age,” Choi said. “They have really put me at ease. It’s nice to have these veterans who have my back. I feel like I can lean on them when the going gets tough.”

Asked if he was nervous ahead of his first postseason game, Choi said, “I am not nervous at all, but that’s probably because I don’t know any better.”

“Who knows? Once the game starts, I think I may get more jitters,” Choi added. “I don’t think I have to do anything to get fired up. My teammate are worried that I am going to be too excited.”

Choi said his goal for the Korean Series is not to stand out, one way or another.

“Hopefully, we will win the championship and I will keep a low profile,” Choi said. “I want to make sure I don’t get carried away.”

For the Landers, at the opposite end of the spectrum in postseason experience sits the 40-year-old outfielder Kim Kang-min, who has 66 postseason games to his credit. Only third baseman Choi Jeong, with 67, has played more on either side.

“I think the best quality about our team is that the guys don’t have to be prodded to do anything,” Kim said. “I’ve seen younger guys prepare for the series, and I didn’t have to tell them anything. Games don’t always play out the way we want them to, but we know we’ve put in the work along the way.”