“The home run championship is like a gift from the heavens.”
The KBO’s home run king for the 2023 season will not be crowned until the end of the season. Noh Si-hwan (23-Hanwha Eagles)메이저사이트, who will be leaving South Korea for a while after leading the league in home runs, is determined to see it through to the end.
“I don’t know how many more home runs Choi Jung-senior will hit while I’m gone, but I hope he doesn’t hit too many,” Noh said in an interview ahead of the national baseball team’s open practice for the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Thursday.
This season, the KBO’s home run category has been characterized by a battle between new and old sluggers. First up was “living legend” Choi Jung (36-SSG Landers), the KBO’s all-time home run leader among right-handed hitters and a three-time home run champion (2016, 2017, 2021). Even at his advanced age, Choi smashed 11 home runs in June alone, breaking his own KBO record for double-digit home runs in 18 consecutive seasons.
Against such a top player, young outfielder Noh Si-hwan threw down the gauntlet. Noh joined Hanwha with the third overall pick in the second round of the 2019 rookie draft, and in his fifth year as a professional, his talent has blossomed. He started hitting more home runs in May, and by the end of the first half, he was tied with Choi for first place in home runs (19). Unlike Choi, who hit just seven home runs in the second half of the year, Noh began to pull away, hitting eight big arches in August alone.
But even with the lead, Noh was never going to rest on his laurels. His inability to add another home run to his 15-game hitting streak since September 2 against the LG Twins in Jamsil weighed heavily on his mind, as he will be unable to play in the KBO for up to 15 days from September 23 until October 7, when he will be selected for the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games. Fortunately, he added a home run against the Daejeon Kiwoom Heroes in his final game before leaving for the national team, and was able to make the team after finishing the regular season with a .298 batting average (147-for-494), 31 home runs, 99 RBIs, 83 runs scored, and a .389 on-base percentage in 126 games.
“I was actually worried about my batting before I came to the national team. The bat didn’t feel right, so I was stressed in my own way,” Noh said, “but the last game gave me a sense of timing and I was able to come to training in a good mood,” he smiled.
The variable is how much Choi can catch up in the two days without Noh. After 24 games, Choi is batting .296 with 26 home runs, 84 RBI, 89 runs scored, a .385 on-base percentage and a .539 slugging percentage in 121 games. What’s more, Choi has a knack for driving in runs, as evidenced by his form in June, so there are plenty of eyes on him to lead the league in home runs.
However, another variable is keeping fans on the edge of their seats in the home run race. Choi felt pain in his back during the Incheon Lotte Giants game on March 23 and missed the game on March 24. According to SSG, Choi’s back injury is not serious enough to remove him from the roster, and he was given a protective break to pinch-hit late in the game. While the condition is not serious, SSG is in the midst of a fierce Top 5 battle and Choi’s return is not something to be taken lightly. Even for Choi, he needs to be fully recovered before he can go for the kill.
In a world where right-handed hitters are becoming increasingly rare in Korean baseball, Choi and Noh’s race to become the new home run king is a welcome addition to the KBO’s box office and growth. Since 2010, there have only been three seasons in which homegrown right-handed hitters ranked first or second in home runs: Park Byung-ho (31) and Choi Jung (26) in 2012, Park Byung-ho (51) and Kang Jeong-ho (40) in 2014, and Park Byung-ho (33) and Choi Jung (29) in 2019. When Park Byung-ho briefly left South Korea for the major leagues (2016-2017), Choi was left to face foreign hitters and the pride of a right-handed slugger, and it was a familiar 1980s battle.
“I hope I’m still leading in home runs when I get back (from the Asian Games),” Noh said, laughing, “and I’m planning to play right after the national team game. I will not give up until the end,” he said, revealing his ambition to become the home run king.
Noh Si-hwan./Photo=Hanwha Eagles