“I would like to thank the fans for their support in getting me through the tough rehabilitation period, and I will play better in the next game to help the team win.”
Kim Hyung-jun (NC Dinos), who returned to the first team after a whopping 1027 days, shared his thoughts.
Drafted by NC with the ninth overall pick in the 2018 Secondary First Round, Kim completed his military service in the 2021-2022 season. Until last year, his professional first team stats were .227 메이저놀이터(260-for-22) with five home runs, 22 RBIs, and a .312 on-base percentage in 159 games.
NC’s Kim Hyung-jun launches a home run in a back-to-back at-bat against the Incheon SSG on April 24. Photo courtesy of NC
Kim’s natural long ball power has been one of his strengths, but unfortunately, he has been plagued by injuries recently. He underwent surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in August of last year, just before his retirement. He returned to action in May, but was sidelined later that month when he tore a ligament in his right ankle after stepping on a ball in training.
However, the frequent injuries did not deter him. He swung a bat in the Futures (second team) league and finally put on a catcher’s mask in place of Ahn Jung-yeol in a defensive situation in the bottom of the first inning against the SSG Landers in the 2023 KBO Baseball League at SSG Landers Field in Incheon on April 24. It had been 1027 days since Kim’s last first-team appearance, on Oct. 31, 2020, when he played catcher against the Gwangju KIA Tigers.
It didn’t start well. In his first at-bat with runners on first and second in the top of the second inning with NC trailing 2-4, he took a two-pitch 138-kilometer cutter from left-handed starter Kirk McCarty and turned it into an infield single.
The desperate Kim’s bat came alive in the top of the fifth inning, when NC trailed 7-2. With the bases loaded, he hit a three-pitch 140-kilometer cutter from McCarty for a solo arch over the left field fence. It was Kim’s first first-team home run and RBI since October 13, 2020, against the Changwon KIA Tigers, 1045 days ago.
With momentum on his side, Kim continued to swing the bat sharply in the top of the eighth inning, when NC was still trailing 3-7. He led off with a walk and lined a 137-kilometer cutter from McCarty over the right-center field fence. It was the 1164th home run of his KBO career and 18th of the season, and if you narrow it down to just Kim, it was the first back-to-back arches of his career. He finished 3-for-5 with two doubles, a home run, two RBIs, and two runs scored.
After the game, Kim told the club, “At first, I was a little nervous when I went out on the field, but I thought, ‘Let’s do what I can do and what I’ve been preparing for,'” adding, “In my first at-bat, my timing was late and the result was not good. In my next at-bat, regardless of the outcome, I thought, ‘Let’s get the timing right in front of me,’ and that led to a good result,” he said confidently.
“I would like to thank the Futures Training Department and the coaches for helping me return to the first team in good health, and I would also like to thank the fans for their support during the difficult rehabilitation period,” he said.
However, despite Kim’s performance, NC fell to SSG 4-7. With the loss, the fourth-ranked NC suffered its 49th consecutive loss (52 wins, 2 draws), leaving them 0.5 games behind the fifth-ranked Doosan Bears (53 wins, 1 draw, 51 losses).
Kim Hyung-jun said, “On a personal level, I’m happy that I’m back in the first team healthy and not sick, and that I was able to show a good performance in my comeback game. However, it doesn’t mean much because the team didn’t win today,” said Kim, emphasizing, “We will play better in the next game to help the team win.”
Meanwhile, the South Korean national baseball team, which will compete at the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games in early October (the tournament kicks off on September 23), will be happy to see Kim’s big day. On June 9, while he was still in the midst of his rehabilitation, manager Ryu Jung-il recognized his ability and selected him for the final roster. He is likely to play a starring role in Hangzhou, especially given that the other catcher selected is the inexperienced Kim Dong-heon (Kiwoom Heroes).