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One year after release from one team, outfielder shines in KBO postseason for another team

Oct. 20, 2022 - 09:53 By Yonhap
Kim Jun-wan of the Kiwoom Heroes celebrates his two-run single against the KT Wiz during the top of the fourth inning of Game 3 of the first round in the Korea Baseball Organization postseason at KT Wiz Park in Suwon, 35 kilometers south of Seoul, on Wednesday (Yonhap)

In October 2021, outfielder Kim Jun-wan was released by the NC Dinos, not deemed worthy of a new contract from a team that missed the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) postseason.

One year later, Kim is playing in the postseason. He has been the sparkplug in the leadoff spot for the Kiwoom Heroes, now on the verge of reaching the next round.

Kim drove in three runs on a couple of hits in the Heroes' 9-2 victory in Game 3 of the best-of-five series against the KT Wiz Wednesday night. When the Heroes took the first game 8-4 on Sunday, Kim went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run.

After Wednesday's victory, which gave the Heroes a 2-1 series lead, Kim said he's counting his blessings every day.

"I was released around this time last year. All I could think of was I wanted to keep playing baseball," the 31-year-old said. "I am just happy to be playing ball in October. I am so grateful for Kiwoom."

Kim has been overlooked and underappreciated his entire career. He did not attract interest from KBO clubs coming out of high school, and so he chose to go to college. Even after that, Kim was not drafted, and instead signed with the Dinos in 2013 on a tryout contract.

He enjoyed his best season in 2016, playing in a career-high 122 games and batting .261. He even appeared in the Korean Series that year and played in nine postseason games in 2017.

But Kim soon faded into the background as the Dinos established themselves as a contender. He was not on the Korean Series roster in 2020 when the Dinos won their first championship.

Then after batting .167 in 13 games in 2021, Kim was not tendered a contract by the Dinos.

The Heroes extended him a lifeline in December 2021, valuing Kim's speed and ability to play all three outfield positions.

He played in 111 games, his most in six years, but still batted below the Mendoza Line, with a .192 average.

And yet the Heroes still made him their leadoff hitter for the postseason, and Kim has been feeding off the power of positive thinking.

"My teammate and coaches have been complimenting me so much that you wouldn't know I hit below .200 this year," Kim said. "I think hearing such encouraging words has allowed me to adopt a more optimistic outlook. Even though my regular season numbers were bad, I figured I'd be much better in the postseason."

Veteran outfielder Lee Yong-kyu has been a key mentor for Kim's improbable postseason run so far. Lee is a similar type of player as Kim, a slap hitter with little power but good speed. Lee just has been far more successful.

"Whenever I have questions about how to handle certain situations, I always go to him with questions," Kim said. "And he often tells me to be myself and do things the way I want to. That has given me a lot of confidence." (Yonhap)