Korean pitcher hoping to pitch well into 40s
Koo Dae-sung, a Korean pitcher representing an Australian club during a continental baseball tournament in Busan this week, said Tuesday he hopes to keep playing as long as his body can hold up.
Koo, 43, has traveled with the Perth Heat, the reigning champions of the Australian Baseball League (ABL), for the Asia Series tournament in South Korea. Set for Thursday to Sunday this week, the event will bring together league champions and All-Stars from South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China and Australia.
Though Koo plays for a different club, the Sydney Blue Sox, the ABL made a special arrangement to put Koo on the Heat roster. The move was designed to help raise the profile of baseball Down Under and strengthen the Heat's pitching staff.
Koo will be making his first appearance on home soil since his retirement from the Hanwha Eagles of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) in 2010. Speaking at the Australian Embassy's reception of the Heat players and ABL officials, Koo said he was looking forward to the opportunity.
"I am thrilled to be pitching again in Korea," Koo said. "I am still an active player, so in some ways, it doesn't feel any more special (than a regular outing). I will just go out there and throw."
Koo, once a hard-throwing lefty who could start and close games, admitted his velocity is only at about "30 to 40 percent" of what it used to be. That won't prevent him from staying in the game, he said.
"I will keep playing as long as I physically can," the ageless wonder said. "I've blown only one save over my two years in Australia."
The ABL season goes from November to February, with teams playing only 45 games. Koo said he has been playing in smaller local leagues during the offseason to stay in shape, and credited his extra work with helping him sustain his level of play.
Koo has enjoyed two solid seasons in the ABL. In his first season with the Blue Sox in 2010-11, Koo notched 12 saves with a 1.00 earned run average (ERA) to earn the Reliever of the Year honors. The following season, he had a league-leading eight saves.
Koo made his professional debut with the Eagles in 1993, and won the KBO's MVP award in 1996 with 18 wins, 24 saves and the league-best 1.88 ERA.
Koo has also played for the New York Mets in Major League Baseball (MLB) in 2005 and the Orix BlueWave in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) from 2001 to 2004. Koo is the first South Korean to play in the KBO, MLB and NPB.
Then after retiring with the Eagles in 2010, Koo settled down in Australia with his family. He said he fell in love with the country after playing at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and the competitive juice got the better of him. Within months of his retirement from Korea, Koo, now a permanent resident in Australia, began pitching again.
"Pitching wise, the ABL is almost on par with the KBO, and some pitchers can reach 150 kilometers per hour (93 miles per hour)," Koo said of the fledgling circuit that started in 2010. "Hitters generally have trouble hitting breaking balls and off-speed pitches. I think that has helped me put up some good numbers there."
When asked if he will ease up against old KBO friends this week, Koo said with a smile, "We're all professionals. I will do the best I can on the mound." (Yonhap)