Dear Mom and Dad,
Hi and sorry it has been so long since I have written. The Major League schedule is pretty hectic and even within that context, it has been a very eventful week for your son the pitcher.
I speculate you may have heard by now something of my exploits here in the United States. I do not mean that to be boastful, but I appear to have become pretty big news in this country. Imagine that. Here the U.S. is fighting a war and its petrol prices are through the roof but at least in New York the only thing anybody wants to talk about is me, Dae-Sung Koo. Like I said, imagine that.
It all started last Monday night. We were winning very big over the team we played at the beginning of the season, the Cincinnati Reds. Since we last played them, they have apparently refiled for amateur status. In any case, the manager Mister Randolph put me in the game when we were far ahead in the score. I was pitching well enough that when it came my turn to bat, I was told to in fact take a bat and go somewhere near home plate.
You must understand what a foreign concept this was for me, having signed with the one league in which they expect the pitcher to hit on occasion. I could not disobey the order. That would be embarrassing. As would be explaining that I have never hit in a professional game, nor even one against semi-professional competition such as that of the Cincinnati Reds. So I took my bat and stood in the batter's box.
And I stood three times until I was out. My teammates good-naturedly derided me for my non-aggressive approach to batting. That is when I had to confess this was all news to me. It was a great source of amusement to all considering that we emerged victorious by a large margin.
I am here to pitch, so I was relieved (no pun intended; they use a lot of puns here, which I will attempt to explain later) when the manager Mister Randolph called on me to pitch and not hit the next night. My pitching since coming to the New York Mets has not been as consistent as I would prefer but I am getting the hang of it, I think. That childhood injury that had the effect of switching me from a right-hander to a left-hander is the root cause of why I am here. I am here to face left-handed batters and Cincinnati, even in its amateurish state, has several.
Thus, the manager Mister Randolph brought me in to start the ninth and final inning against some of the Reds' best lefties, including Ken Griffey who is so famous we had even heard of him in Korea. This is called here playing the percentages. Well, I did one-third of my job well, retiring one left-handed batter but allowing two others to reach base. The manager Mister Randolph then replaced me with Mister Looper, the “closer,” as he is called.
To tell you the truth, I did not think much about it. My job is to pitch when the high command of the ballclub tells me to. Apparently, everybody in this country is more sensitive to “roles” and pitching. Mister Looper seemed distraught that he did not begin the ninth inning. A week or two earlier, my teammate Mister Hernandez seemed very conscious of when the manager used him, particularly as regards the ninth inning. I do not quite understand all the fuss. I may be fourth on the all-time Korean League saves list, but I pitched when I was told to pitch. However, I meant to cause no hurt feelings. On the other hand, I do not remember complaining in any language on Opening Day when I pitched well in the eighth inning, but was replaced by Mister Looper because it was his “role” to pitch the ninth inning. He lost that day, you probably remember, but I did not say a word, not even to my interpreter.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to pitch in the United States and in New York and for the New York Mets. But I would be less than truthful if I did say it has not been difficult. The pitching is an obvious challenge. I am facing the world's greatest hitters every instance in which I am called. That is a given. And the spectators are very, very demanding, which is understandable, given the high price of admission for these contests. (For the first month of the season, it seemed they were calling my name every time one of our batters made an out, but I found out that “Koo” sounds a lot like a word that is commonly used to express displeasure.)
But at the risk of whining, nobody seems to realize that this is a very awkward situation for me, 35 years old but a rookie all over again in every sense of the word. There are very few Koreans in Major League Baseball. Come to think of it, I do not believe I have seen any since Jae-Weong Seo was shipped back to the minor leagues (a league more minor than the one with the Cincinnati Reds). There is Mister Seo and Mister Park with Texas and after that, it seems, I am on my own. Sure, they gave me an interpreter, which I appreciate, but I literally do not understand what is going on around here. The only thing that anybody seems to know about me are my name and that in English it apparently lends itself to countless plays on words. My teammates for the most part are gregarious and outgoing, and I try to return the favor (I will have to show you the game Texas Hold 'Em I have learned) but at the end of the day, as they say in America, I am alone.
Yet you are never very much alone in New York, especially on a weekend like this one. This is the weekend of the Subway Series, when the New York Mets play the New York Yankees. Mom and Dad, you would not believe the commotion that is made over these three games that are not part of a championship tournament. It is way bigger than when I helped Korea beat Japan in the 2000 Olympics for the bronze medal. Heck, it may be bigger than the Republic of Korea versus North Korea (just kidding, but I wanted to give you a sense of the enormity of the situation; and honestly, they are like a team filled with Kim Jong Ils.).
I did not pitch in our first game against those devil Yankees, but I was asked by the manager Mister Randolph to help beat our geographic rivals. I was brought in to retire batters and did so. I was quite pleased to have achieved my mission.
Usually, that would be enough. We were winning 2-0 in the bottom of the seventh and my turn in the batting order approached. I assumed Mister Randolph would send up one of our fine pinch-hitters. After all, the devil Yankees' pitcher was Randy Johnson. While I do not quite comprehend the overblown reputation of the Yankees based on their recent performance, certainly I have heard of Randy Johnson. He is indeed a very big unit, especially in person. Lest you have forgotten, Randy Johnson is a left-handed pitcher and I am a left-handed batter. That is not what is called playing the percentages from our perspective.
But Mister Randolph wished I remain in the game to begin the eighth as pitcher, so he allowed me to remain in the game to continue in the seventh as batter. This was cause for more good-natured derision from my teammates and even the paying customers in the stands. Everybody seemed to remember that earlier in the week I was not particularly aggressive in my approach to batting. I was determined to proceed differently this time around.
First of all, I stood closer to home plate than I did previously. I watched Randy Johnson throw me a ball, then a strike. I got a sense of what it is like to be a batter against Randy Johnson. That is when I decided to be a hitter against Randy Johnson.
I swung at his third pitch, a low fastball from the big man. Well, you will never guess what happened next unless it has made the news back home. My bat connected with the ball and the ball traveled to very deep centerfield, over the devil Yankee centerfielder's head. For somebody who has stood on the mound and have it had happen to me, I knew what to do next.
I ran. I ran to first base and kept running. I landed on second base. There was much cheering, more cheering than I have heard for doing anything relating to my pitching thus far in my rookie Major League season, which is odd, considering I am a pitcher and my job is to pitch. Apparently, even though pitchers are expected to hit in the league I am in, they are not expected to hit too well. As a reward for succeeding in this regard, I was handed my jacket, which must be a great honor because most baserunners are not entitled to wear one while on the basepaths. I believe it has something to do with the sacred nature of the baseball diamond.
No matter how you add it up, I was on second base with nobody out. The next batter was our shortstop Mister Reyes. It was his task to sacrifice me to third base. He bunted the ball fair and I ran to third. It was a good bunt, but not one so artful that it should have confused a team that has the high and mighty reputation these devil Yankees carry. But somehow it must have, because as their catcher fielded the bunt, their whole team of nine men left home plate uncovered.
I may not make a habit of being a baserunner, but I recognize an uncovered base as well as anyone. While the devil Yankees were throwing out Mister Reyes at first, I had advanced to third and noticed the uncovered state of home. Shoot, I thought to myself, there is no reason to stop here at third base. Shoot, I will run all the way home. With the ceremonial jacket on, it was not easy (and my experience at doing so is not all that practiced) but I kept running. Their catcher got the ball back and lunged at me but it was late according to the wisdom of the umpire. I was called safe and we led 3-0.
From what I understand, the New York Mets have had sporadic success through their history. They fly four flags beyond center field to signify their championships. I do not know what it was like here when they won those championships but I hesitate to imagine the bedlam because when all I did was score the third run of what had become a 3-0 game in the eighth inning, the reception was raucous. You might have thought I had accomplished a less expensive way to retail petrol for all of New York, perhaps all of the United States.
The spectators were jubilant and my teammates were beside themselves, yelling all sorts of apparently encouraging things at me. I did not understand any of it specifically but I could decipher happiness as easily as I could an uncovered base. Some of them even bowed to me which was quite a gesture, since over here there is little bowing.
My teammates went onto score some more runs and I was allowed to remain in the game to do my actual job, pitching to left-handed devil Yankees. I succeeded until the manager Mister Randolph decided I had had enough. We finished the game with a large win, 7-1, over the devil Yankees. Several of our Mets did very well in the game, but I garnered all the attention whether I felt I deserved it or not. The starting pitcher Mister Benson looked very good for most of his nearly seven innings. Mister Cairo hit a home run. Mister Reyes tripled again. Mister Wright drove the ball hard.
Yet with all of that, everybody wanted to interview me when the game was completed. It was a little embarrassing, but I would be lying to you if I did not tell you that it was somewhat gratifying. Although I have pitched fairly decently of late, much of my early-season performing was subpar and I certainly want to contribute to making the New York Mets a winner. If I have to do it with my bat, so be it. I will do it with my bat.
Mom and Dad, I am sorry to have gone on for so long about myself, but it has been a very unusual week. I hope I have given you an accurate sense of it from my perspective. May you and the whole family be well, and I plan to write at more frequent intervals as the Major League schedule permits.