Talking about that very moment three months later, Choo could not help but smile. In what he describes as his best offseason in 10 years, Choo not only willed his country to the contest’s top prize, but – in what would be his final chance – he also alleviated himself of concern and questioning that surrounded a potential stint with the Korean military.
When asked what was running through his mind, Choo said that he couldn’t help but reflect on the years leading up to that exact point in time.
“[With] the past 10 years, [and] how much stress I had – a lot of the media [members] asking me the same questions,” said Choo after a day of spring training in Goodyear, Arizona. “Now, I’m much more comfortable, more focused to play baseball. It was the best offseason of my life.”
Choo says that the last two years have been very tough. While constant questioning from the media didn’t help his psyche, the inner battle surrounding what decision he would have faced had the Korean team not won the gold medal. Per the Korean law, Choo would have been forced to declare himself as no longer being a resident of his home country if he would forgo a military obligation.
If said obligation was wearing on him during the course of the last two seasons, Choo either did a really good job of hiding it or Indians fans (an opposing pitchers) have an awful lot to look forward to as the right fielder has provided nearly identical seasons at the plate with a combined 42 home runs, 176 RBI and a average slash line of .300/.397/.487 (.884 OPS).
In the same, this is also the first offseason in the 10-year span in which Choo played baseball during his time away from the Indians instead of taking a break. Thankfully, if all goes as planned, Choo will have some help this season after the last two were also decimated by injuries to several of his key teammates. Indians head coach Manny Acta stressed the importance of having Grady Sizemore, Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana in the linuep with Choo, hoping that Choo’s penchant for drawing walks will only further help the team add to their run total.
Signing a one-year deal with the Indians and avoiding arbitration, Choo and his hopefully healthy teammates will compete in an AL Central division that will provide a high level of competition with a lot of familiar faces (Victor Martinez, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel will play for the Tigers, Twins and White Sox, respectively). Regardless of his team not adding many free agents of name, Choo stresses that the players currently on the Indians can surprise a lot of people if the injury bug can stay away.
“A lot of people think that because we’re a young team, we’re not going to make the playoffs, but I don’t think so,” said Choo. “We can be a dangerous team. With [those players back], we have a really good lineup with a lot of talent.”
With Opening Day less than 40 days away, Choo will look to hit the ground running, carrying the momentum over from last year and the work he did with his Asian Game teammates, where he caught the final out prior to receiving the gold medal – a moment which Choo states was like slow motion with each of the past 10 years running through his mind prior to the ball landing in his webbed, leather-clad right hand.
(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)