Before he begins the new season back with his old team in the South Korean league in April, veteran catcher Yang Eui-ji will go on a personal redemption tour at the World Baseball Classic in March.
Yang, one of the best catchers in Korea Baseball Organization history, was among the no-brainer picks for the big tournament in Tokyo. For the 35-year-old, this could be the last chance to represent the country.
For all his success in the KBO, Yang hasn't been nearly as productive in international tournaments. Most recently at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, Yang batted 3-for-22 as South Korea finished fourth among six countries.
At the 2019 Premier12, which doubled as the regional Olympic qualifying tournament, Yang batted only 2-for-23 -- this in the same year in which he won the KBO batting title. South Korea lost to Japan in the final.
Yang, reunited with the Doosan Bears after four seasons with the NC Dinos, said Wednesday he was grateful for the opportunity to play for South Korea again.
"I don't want to hurt the team. I've struggled in recent international tournaments, and I really want to redeem myself this time," Yang said at a press conference to reintroduce himself at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul. "To get ready for our first game on March 9, I started my technical training earlier than usual."
Yang has long been a complete package, the rare backstop who can hit for power and high average, and also call an excellent game from behind the dish. But as much as South Korea would like Yang to swing a big bat, manager Lee Kang-chul has already told Yang not to worry too much about hitting.
"He has only stressed defense," Yang said with a smile. "I will concentrate on developing chemistry with pitchers and analyzing our opponents."
Pitchers who have thrown to Yang over the years have raved about his smarts and steady presence. Two former major league left-handers, Kim Kwang-hyun of the SSG Landers and Yang Hyeon-jong of the Kia Tigers, will get to find out what the hype is about.
"They are one year younger than I am, but they're both veterans with major league experience," said Yang, who is older than every pitcher on the national team. "I feel like I can lean on those two guys."
Yang said he was also looking forward to catching his former Dinos teammate, left-hander Koo Chang-mo. The 25-year-old has shaken off a nagging injury bug to finally make the national team. When healthy, he has been one of the KBO's best starters in recent years.
"I think he's going to have a massive season in 2023," Yang said. "He has never had to pitch so early in the year, with the WBC being in March, and I think he may find that a bit challenging. But if he can ramp up in time, he will play an important role for us at the WBC."
Yang will also be around a couple of young Bears pitchers on the national team in Gwak Been and Jeong Cheol-won. Both 23, these two will be two of the hardest-throwing right-handers for South Korea.
"Gwak Been joined Doosan when I was still there in 2018, and I've been a big fan of his ever since," Yang said. "I think Jeong has a lot of confidence in himself after winning the Rookie of the Year last season. I won't have to tell them anything. They will be just fine, and I will be there to support them as much as I can." (Yonhap)