Nexen Heroes’ Seo hits for cycle

Nexen Heroes’ second baseman Seo Geon-chang celebrates with his teammates after hitting the cycle of a single, a double, a triple and a home run in a agame against the Doosan Bears at Seoul Sports Complex Baseball Park in southern Seoul, Friday. / Yonhap

Second baseman helps team end 5-game losing streak

By Kang Hyun-kyung

With a full count, the Nexen Heroes’ second baseman Seo Geon-chang pulled together a much-anticipated double to left field in the ninth inning against the Doosan Bears at Seoul Sports Complex Baseball Park in southern Seoul, Friday.

This made Seo, 27, the 22nd player in Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) League history to hit the cycle of a single, a double, a triple and a homer in one game.

His stunning performance all throughout the game helped his team defeat the Bears 7-3, ending the Heroes’ five-game losing streak since opening day of the 2017 season.

“Before the game, as the captain I had felt sort of pressure for our team’s five defeats in a row and I’m happy because we finally ended it today,” he said after the game. “Before the ninth inning, my teammates in the dugout encouraged me to hit a double so I could hit for the cycle. But honestly I didn’t set my expectation high about the ninth inning because hitting for the cycle is such a rare and demanding thing to do… I thank my teammates for their support.”

He said he and his teammates were frustrated with the five-game losing streak.

“In baseball, teams can win and lose and losing or winning streaks happen. But we were particularly embarrassed about the losing streak because it came so early in the season,” Seo said.

Seo became the Heroes’ first player to hit for the cycle since the Seoul-based team was founded in 2008. He hit a triple, a homer and a single against the Bears’ ace pitcher Dustin Nippert, last year’s MVP. The Bears’ starter was replaced after pitching four and 2/3 innings during which he allowed one homer, five hits and four balls three times. Seo produced a double against the Bears’ closer Hong San-sam in the ninth inning.

Lee Soon-cheol, a Kia Tigers player-turned-baseball analyst, said the cycle of a single, a double, a triple and a home run in a game is a rare and tough record to achieve.

“I had played baseball almost all my life, but I had never achieved it and never been close to it,” he said. “Hitting the cycle is very challenging for players, partly because of hitting a triple. Singles or doubles are common but a triple is a different story because it requires the player to hit well and be a great base runner, too.”

For Seo to hit for the cycle meant he has successfully adapted to the new season. Before the Friday game, he produced only one hit in 17 at-bats in five previous games. He had two hits out of six at-bats with two RBIs during the second game against the Bears on Saturday. The Heroes won 13-10.

Seo is not a stranger to setting records. He produced a record-high 201 hits during the 2014 season, breaking Lee Jong-beom’s 1994 record of 197 hits in a single season. Seo was chosen as the MVP of the 2014 regular season for his record-high number of hits by earning 77 out of 99 votes. He vied for recognition at that time with two sluggers who have now become Major Leaguers — the Minnesota Twins’ Park Byung-ho and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Kang Jung-ho.

Seo became the 8th KBO star to win the Rookie of the Year Award and a Golden Glove in the same year.

His splendid accomplishments in the KBO League came later than expected. Seo was a noted baseball talent when he played for Gwangju Jeil High School. In 2007 when he was a third-year student of the school, he applied for the draft by KBO clubs only to find that no teams were interested in acquiring him. Around that time, he was lured to consider becoming a college athlete. Yang Soo-ho, then manager of the Korea University baseball team, was eager to scout Seo and visited Seo and his family three times to encourage him to consider joining the university baseball team. Seo turned it down. Yang, also a former LG Twins coach, later quoted Seo as saying that he had to support his single mother and his sister and thus would rather pursue a career in professional baseball than go to college.

After he was overlooked in the draft by the KBO clubs, Seo joined the LG Twins in 2008 as “a registered player.” Players in this status are not included on their teams’ rosters and their minimum salary is not guaranteed.

Seo played in the 2008 KBO League in one game but was sent to the minor league again because of injuries. With few opportunities to prove himself in the minor league, he was eventually let go in 2009. After finishing his military service, Seo returned to the KBO League in 2012 after passing the Heroes’ test to select players. He made the Heroes’ opening games roster that year and batted .266 with 115 hits with 40 RBIs during the season.

During the 2016 season, the Heroes’ second baseman batted .325 with 182 hits, seven home runs and 63 RBIs.

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