I recently talked to a guy whose daughter had a wonderful experience with a brief residency in South Korea. She raved about how she was treated and that language wasn’t the barrier she presumed.
Fort Loramie’s Jared Hoying heard many of the same things from baseball colleagues, and this has influenced his decision to depart American pro baseball, at least temporarily, for South Korea and their ten team major league Korean Baseball Organization (KBO).
Hoying spent the past eight seasons in the Texas Rangers organization including parts of the last two with the big league club. He hit 111 minor league homers and one with Texas. The outfielder was released by the Rangers and recently signed a non-guaranteed deal with the Los Angeles Angels that included a pathway overseas if he so desired. His Cincinnati-based agent had been examining Korean opportunities for a couple years but the time wasn’t right until now.
It didn’t work out in 2017 because he’d just become a father and didn’t want to uproot, which is no longer a concern.
“I talked to a few former teammates who had gone there and loved it,” Hoying said this week. “One guy went to South Korea and then Japan before returning to South Korea. He said South Korea was a much better experience. My wife also talked to some wives who’ve gone along with young families and enjoyed it immensely. Tiffany (wife) and Carly (daughter) will go with me.”
As for baseball the lefty hitter says, “It’s a chance for me to play center field every day and not worry about getting called up or sent down. I’ll play for the Hanwha Eagles and there are three imported players on each team (maximum two pitchers).”
Former Reds pitcher Keyvius Sampson will join Hoying with Hanwha and play home games in a 14,133 seat ballpark. Schedules are similar to here with less games and every Monday off.
Hoying is quite familiar with Korean success story Eric Thames, now a first baseman/outfielder with the Milwaukee Brewers. After bouncing around the minors and majors here, he spent three highly successful seasons in the KBO and returned to hit 31 homers for the Brewers in 2017. The contract he signed at age 30 to return home was $16 million over three years. Thames became a South Korean celebrity and was accorded honorary citizenship in the city where he played. Hoying will turn 29 next season and hopes for similar success.
Jared will be paid $700,000 including signing bonus, well above what he’d have made for a full year of major league play here ($507,500). He gets a three bedroom apartment near the ballpark as part of the deal. If he has a solid 2018 he’d be in line for a one or two year KBO contract or a return home as a free agent. Either scenario could be for significantly more money.
The KBO has an English website and some games have video streaming. South Korea is 13 hours ahead of our eastern time zone during baseball season since that country doesn’t observe Daylight Saving Time. The normal gap is 14 hours. The level of play is likely between American “AAA” and the major leagues.
Due to the presence of an unpredictable dictator in North Korea, the entire Korean peninsula is constantly in the news for the wrong reason. Is this a good time to head to South Korea to play baseball? Hoying understands the question and has heard it often. “My agent, team, and league don’t see any problems,” he relayed. “They see business as usual which makes me comfortable.”
“With where I am in my career this is the right thing at the right time,” he concluded.
Spring training begins in the Japanese island of Okinawa in early February.
Dave Ross has followed Jared Hoying since high school and is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.