Last January I interviewed Jared Hoying on stage at a Fort Loramie fund raiser and inquired if he felt he’d conclude his professional baseball playing career by continuing to perform in South Korea. His answer was both affirmative and realistic.
“Yes, it looks that way,” Shelby County’s first major leaguer began. “I played well over there, enjoyed some popularity, and made a nice guaranteed salary. Unless my numbers explode to the point that I attract major league interest and a contract at least similar to my Korean deal, I will likely play a few more years over there and then retire.”
His just completed 2019 campaign as an outfielder for the Hanwha Eagles included a .284 batting average, 18 homers, 73 RBIs and a new baby daughter. While still respectable, his stats represent a decline from 2018 (.306/30/110) on a team that went from the playoffs to the bottom of the Korean Baseball Organization standings in just one year. There appear to be reasons for both declines.
Jared considers his 2019 personal performance on par with 2018. “The league went to deader baseballs. Homers were down 40% which the fans didn’t like. Overall attendance was down 20%,” he offered. “Maybe they’ll switch back in 2020.”
As for his team, he says the Eagles began with essentially the same personnel from the previous campaign before key season ending injuries to the center fielder and second baseman. “There’s no such thing as an experienced backup. When you lose a key guy, the replacement is probably a 20 year old home grown rookie.”
Hoying’s season ended a bit prematurely due to a lower leg injury that is not as serious as initially thought. “The first doctor I saw was a baseball fan and was excited to see me in his office…’Hoying, Hoying, get picture.’ He diagnosed a stress fracture of the shin but I wanted another opinion.” The team lined him up to travel to a specialist who identified a deep shin bruise which is a more favorable diagnosis. That second opinion was recently confirmed by noted sports orthopedist Dr. Tim Kremchek in Cincinnati.
“The shin is doing well and I’ll start workouts soon. I’ll be ready for spring training,” he told me on Wednesday of this week. If he stays with Hanwha, spring training could be in familiar territory. “Due to a trade war between South Korea and Japan, they might move spring training from Okinawa to Peoria, Arizona. When I was with the Texas Rangers we trained close to there.”
I would personally welcome such a move as I follow spring training for the Sidney Daily News. My spring training residence is in Peoria, a western suburb of Phoenix.
Nine months after venturing his opinions about future returns to South Korea, little has changed for the 2007 Loramie graduate. “I was actually encouraged by my team’s reaction to my (season ending) injury. When this happens to an American player, they’re usually sent home but they kept me around even with the team struggling. All indications are that they want me back and an answer should come quickly,” he stated. Though his contract has expired, Hanwha still holds his KBO rights unless he’s released.
What are his options? 1) Stay put. 2) Try Japan. 3) Come home for a minor league contract with a major league club and no guarantees. Keep in mind that his current salary is over double the major league minimum.
His wife and two daughters will again join him during the regular season in 2020. They’ve favorably scouted preschool options for their older daughter close to their South Korean residence. Until it’s time for Carly to start kindergarten in Fort Loramie the current arrangement will be just fine. “In a couple years it may be time for me to retire from baseball,” Hoying concluded.
Next Friday: An unlikely but very successful high school football career reaches conclusion.
Sports Extra appears each Friday. Ross was named the top Div. II sports columnist for 2018 by the Ohio Associated Press and was runner-up in 2017.