Park’s minor league demotion latest setback for Korean star


NEW YORK — Byung Ho Park‘s demotion to the minor leagues is just the latest setback for the Korean star.

The Minnesota rookie became expendable when the Twins recalled Miguel Sano on Friday. Before the roster move, Park had bounced around the Twins lineup and struggled especially with runners on base. Through 62 games, the slugger was hitting .191 with 80 strikeouts.

Far from the performance you’d expect from the 29-year-old who had his own theme song in South Korea complete with dance moves and set to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

With fans having little to dance about since Park came to the United States, the setbacks this season have stalled significant hype and potential marketability to fans in Asia.

“Baseball-wise (in MLB), I’m still adjusting and learning and definitely still in that learning period,” Park said through his interpreter, J.D. Kim.

Known by the nickname “Park Bang” with the Nexen Heroes from 2011-15, Park led the Korea Baseball Organization in home runs (53), total bases (377) and RBI (146) in 2015. The Twins took notice and paid $12.85 million just to win bidding rights to negotiate with Park, then signed him to a four-year, $12 million contract.

But Park’s stardom in the United States was never a guarantee and he’s struggled with the noticeable talent jump in pitching. During one stretch in June, he struck out eight times in 11 at-bats, prompting manager Paul Molitor to pull him from a start to give him a mental break.

Park’s major league struggles have led the Twins to hold off on pursuing marketing deals back in his homeland, team spokesman Dustin Morse said.

They’re still eager, just like other clubs who also have Asian players, like Korean hitters Dae Ho Lee of the Mariners and Jung Ho Kang of the Pirates. Clubs have seen the benefits of success by other stars from the continent, like Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Shin-Soo Choo and Yu Darvish, among others.

Suzuki, of the Miami Marlins, is a rare example of an Asian star who achieved the same level of stardom within a year of coming to the United States.

In an All-Star 2001 season with the Seattle Mariners, Suzuki was the American League MVP and rookie of the year, and also won a Golden Glove Award and a Silver Slugger Award. His marketing power has kept pace with his success each season — Suzuki was recently honored for reaching 4,257 hits between the Japanese and North American major leagues, surpassing Pete Rose’s MLB total.

Because of Suzuki, Miami’s games are now broadcast in Japan and the team’s front office officials have gone to Japan each offseason to make connections in Asia, Marlins president David Samson said.

“We are trying to make inroads there and we would love to be the team of Asia like we are the team of Latin American because we are Miami,” Samson said.

The Twins want similar connections in South Korea, sending executives to talk with companies in the country about ideas for the future.

“We’re trying to let Byung Ho Park establish himself as a baseball player and since it’s his first year in Major League Baseball we’re not trying to go too over the top,” Morse said.

If Park can turn things around and establish himself in the majors, U.S. fan support and marketability could follow in his favor. Lee saw that with the Mariners after not knowing if he would even make the 25-man roster during spring training.

“(Lee) has become very popular amongst our fans,” Mariners spokesman Randy Adamack said. “They recognize him now. They get excited when he comes to the plate. His face is becoming more and more familiar around town and he’s got kind of a cult following.”

The best way to gauge Park support in the MLB is spotting his jersey among fans in the stands, Morse said. The team had a promotional day for its first Korean player during the first month of the season, selling tickets at Target Field in a special section dubbed “Byung Ho’s Balcony.”

Before Park’s demotion, Minnesota officials were planning another promotion tied to Park for a July game against the Athletics.

Nationals GM Rizzo won’t reveal length of Martinez’s new contract

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WASHINGTON — Dave Martinez spoke Saturday about managing the Washington Nationals for “many, many years” and over the “long term” and “quite some time,” thanks to his contract extension.

Sharing a table to a socially distanced degree with his manager on a video conference call to announce the new deal – each member of the duo sporting a 2019 World Series ring on his right hand – Nationals GM Mike Rizzo referred to the agreement’s “multiyear” nature, but repeatedly refused to reveal anything more specific in response to reporters’ questions.

“We don’t talk about terms as far as years, length and salaries and that type of thing. We’re comfortable with what we have and the consistency that we’re going to have down the road,” said Rizzo, who recently agreed to a three-year extension of his own. “That’s all we want to say about terms, because it’s private information and we don’t want you guys to know about it.”

When Martinez initially was hired by Rizzo in October 2017 – his first managing job at any level – the Nationals’ news release at the time announced that he was given a three-year contract with an option for a fourth year.

That 2021 option had not yet been picked up.

“The partnership that Davey and I have together, our communication styles are very similar. Our aspirations are similar, and kind of our mindset of how to obtain the goals that we want to obtain are similar. I think it’s a good match,” Rizzo said. “We couldn’t have hit on a more positive and enthusiastic leader in the clubhouse. I think you see it shine through even in the most trying times.”

The Nationals entered Saturday – Martinez’s 56th birthday – with a 23-34 record and in last place in the NL East, which Rizzo called “a disappointing season.” The team’s title defense was slowed by injuries and inconsistency during a 60-game season delayed and shortened by the coronavirus pandemic.

World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg threw just five innings because of a nerve issue in his pitching hand and players such as Starlin Castro, Sean Doolittle, Tanner Rainey, Adam Eaton and Carter Kieboom finished the year on the IL.

“This year, for me, we didn’t get it done. We had a lot of bumps in the road this year. But I really, fully believe, we’ve got the core guys here that we need to win another championship,” Martinez said. “I know Mike, myself, we’re going to spend hours and hours and hours trying to fill the void with guys we think can potentially help us in the future. And we’ll be back on the podium. I’m really confident about that.”

Rizzo was asked Saturday why the team announces contract lengths for players, as is common practice around the major leagues, but wouldn’t do so in this instance for Martinez.

“The reason is we don’t want anybody to know. That’s the reason,” Rizzo said, before asking the reporter: “How much do you make? How many years do you have?”

Moments later, as the back-and-forth continued, Rizzo said: “It’s kind of an individual thing with certain people. I don’t want you to know what I make or how many years I have. Davey doesn’t want you to know. And I think that it’s only fair … when people don’t want certain information out there, that we don’t give it.”

There were some calling for Martinez to lose his job last season when Washington got off to a 19-31 start. But Rizzo stood by his manager, and the team eventually turned things around, going 74-38 the rest of the way to reach the playoffs as an NL wild-card team.

The Nationals then beat the Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals to reach the World Series, where they beat the Houston Astros in Game 7.

Washington joined the 1914 Boston Braves as the only teams in major league history to win a World Series after being 12 games below .500 during a season.

“Everything from Day 1 to where he’s gotten to now, he’s grown so much. He’s really become one of my favorite managers of all,” three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer said after helping Washington win Saturday’s opener of a doubleheader against the New York Mets. “Davey really understands how to manage a clubhouse, manage a team. We saw it in the postseason. He knows how to push the right buttons when everything is on the line.”