Heading into this season, the KIA Tigers had high hopes for their ‘June Synergy’.
The arrival of Choi Won-jun (26), who is completing his military service at Commerce, was expected to form a “wall of woe” in the outfield with Na Sung-bum (34) and Socrates Brito (31). The idea was that Won-jun, a former KIA center fielder before joining the military, would hold the center line with his mobility, while Socrates and Na Sung-bum would support the left and right sides.
But things didn’t go their way. Na Sung-bum was lost to injury just before the start of the season, leaving a crack in the outfield. The outfield worries quickly faded as the “luxury backup line” of Ko Jong-wook (34), Lee Chang-jin (32), and Lee Woo-sung (29) filled the void. However, the corner infield was a problem. In the opening two games, third baseman Kim Do-young (20) was injured and out for more than two months, and at first base, last year’s starter Hwang Dae-in (27) struggled to find his footing, while another promising player, Byun Woo-hyuk (23), also struggled. Ryu Ji-hyuk (29), who can cover first and third base, filled Kim’s void, but first base was still a concern. Kia manager Kim Jong-kook turned to Choi Won-jun for the middle infield. He thought that his experience as an infielder in the early stages of his debut would help.
Maybe it was the pressure, but Choi batted just 2-for-3 in June, his first month back. He only stole one base, a longtime staple. In July and August, he showed signs of improvement, batting in the mid-teens, but his numbers still fell short of the expectations KIA had for him before his return. Kim reassigned Choi to his original position, the outfield, starting last month. The return of Kim Do-young from injury and the addition of another first base option in Oh Sun-woo (27) after Hwang Dae-in Byun Woo-hyuk freed up space.
In September, Choi is still struggling. He’s batting just 2-for-2 in the month, but his long, quick feet are coming alive. On September 10 against the LG Twins in Gwangju, he came in for the injured Na Sung-bum in the second inning and stole three bases. It was the most stolen bases in a single game in his career. “Coach Choi Jae-young helped me a lot,” Choi said, “He gave me a lot of tips on how to increase my chances (of stealing bases). I just followed through and it turned out well,” Choi said of his three stolen bases.
“It’s not the same as going through spring training like other players and starting steadily throughout the year,” Choi said, “but I think I was impatient to do the same.” “I didn’t think so, but looking back, I think it took me a long time to adjust,” he said. “As our team depth got stronger and our ranking got higher, I think I became impatient because I had to play first base. I think I didn’t play as well as I should have because I was under pressure to show something,” he said. “I want to help the team go as high as possible without focusing on my personal record 스포츠토토,” he said.
Choi Won-jun will soon be wearing the Korean flag and chasing Asian Games gold. With a young roster, Choi’s experience in the first team is crucial. “The team is doing so well that I honestly don’t care about joining the Asian Games,” he says. “It’s great to be a part of the national team because it’s everyone’s dream, but on the other hand, I don’t feel bad about not being able to play with the team. I will try to fulfill my role no matter what,” he said.