“I’m 42 and it’s funny even to hit 4 times.”

This year’s KIA Tigers are classified as the third round in the baseball world along with the LG Twins, the defending champion, and the KT Wiz, the runner-up team in the Korean Series last year. Talk began to come out in earnest after LG manager Yeom Kyung-yeop picked KIA and KT as the most threatening teams of the 2024 season at the New Year’s meeting held at Jamsil Stadium on the 5th.

The biggest reason KIA is considered the championship is its explosive power of its batters. Last year, KIA ended its regular season in sixth place by suffering from demons of injury from the spring camp until the end of the season, but there were times when autumn baseball was taken for granted. It was then against KT in Suwon on August 24 last year, and against Doosan Bears in Jamsil on September 6, 2014, when it drastically increased its ranking from sixth to second and only three games apart.

At this time, KIA showed its formidable scoring ability to score an average of 8.6 points per game with 78 points and 26 points in nine games, signaling to KBO how scary the entire lineup is. Park Chan-ho and Kim Do-young’s two table setters shake the opposing camp and a clean-up consisting of Na Sung-bum, Choi Hyung-woo and Socrates Brito brings them home. Kim Sun-bin and Kim Tae-gun created another opportunity with their respective contact skills, and Byun Woo-hyuk and Choi Won-joon showed one shot, or handed over the baton to the top lineup.

While acknowledging the explosive power of his batting lineup, Choi explained why he felt KIA was worth a try this year with a slightly different perspective. “Everyone talks about the explosive power of our batting lineup when we won nine consecutive games last year for the reason that we have high expectations for this year,” Choi said at the Gwangju-Kia Champions Field on Wednesday. “I remember that too, but I thought it was more important that there was no player who was lacking than that. Given that the batting order from No. 1 to No. 9, there is no player who can rest from the opponent’s standpoint. I gained confidence by watching that.”

Analysts say that KIA has strong power this year to the extent that at least two players in all positions are expected. Left fielder Socrates, center fielder Choi Won-joon and right fielder Na Sung-bum are holding out in the outfield, while Ko Jong-wook, Lee Chang-jin and Kim Seok-hwan will join as backup. Third baseman Kim Do-young, shortstop Park Chan-ho and second baseman Kim Sun-bin are solid in the infield, and the growth of Kim Kyu-sung, Yoon Do-hyun, Jung Hae-won and Park Min is notable as backup. Veteran Seo Kun-chang, who is desperately trying, has also joined the team. On the home turf are Kim Tae-gun, Han Seung-taek and Han Jun-su, who have grown further. At first base, where the starting position is uncertain, Lee Woo-sung, who has a batting average of 30 percent against the existing Hwang Dae-in and Byun Woo-hyuk, will take on a new challenge.

“Any team can have explosive power for a brief period of time, but it is really good if the rival team feels ‘good batting power’. In the past, we used to say that younger players should be bigger in order to be called strong teams. If it felt like 3-4 players had to be bigger out of the nine players in the main lineup, now it has more or less nine players. Now, it can be said that the team has the capacity to win championships in addition to ranking high with confidence. Even when looking at the size of annual salary, I can feel that. Usually, annual salary is proportional to performance, but now there are quite a few players who earn an annual salary of 100 million dollars. This is because younger players have grown that much,” he explained.

What naturally comes to mind is the 2017 KIA. In 2017, the last year that KIA won the Korean Series, there was no one to rest from No. 1 to No. 9. It was a time when Kim Sun-bin, the batting champion with a batting average of 0.370, hit No. 9, and Lee Bum-ho, the current batting coach of KIA’s first division with 25 homers and 89 RBIs, hit No. 7.

The oldest player, who is still the fourth hitter for the Tigers at over the age of 40. Like coach Lee Bum-ho in 2017, he naturally wanted to be pushed out to the bottom order. “I’m the one who really wants me to be pushed out to the bottom batting order. It’s funny that I’m in the fourth place at this age when I’ve turned 42 in Korean age,” Choi said with a big smile.

“Fortunately, I almost lost in the clean-up recently.” (Hwang) Dae-in recorded 91 RBIs two years ago, and if the momentum had continued steadily, I would have been pushed to the sixth place. Last year (Byeon) Woo-hyuk also felt like something would work, but it didn’t work. “This year, Dae-in and Woo-hyuk also have (Lee) Woo-sung, so I could really hit at the seventh place,” he said. “If the team is going to do well, an old man like me should be pushed back. Instead, I think I will support them as much as I can. If they grow up and do well, they will support them, and if they falter a little, I will hold on while pulling them until they grow up. Whatever it is, if they grow up quickly and settle down, then I can leave. I am ready to leave anytime.”

Choi still has a lot to prove for younger players to surpass Choi. Last year, Choi had a batting average of 0.302 with 17 homers and 81 RBIs in 121 games and recorded a batting average of 0.302, 17 homers, 81 RBIs, 64 runs scored and 130 hits in 121 games, demonstrating his robustness despite his overwhelming age. He also broke the record for most RBIs and the most doubles in the history of the KBO League, setting a new milestone.

Currently, he is sweating profusely at the Gwangju-Kia Champions Field every day in order to play in the opening game in 100 percent condition. Choi was diagnosed with a crushed fracture of his left clavicle and a brachial joint in September last year due to a collision with the opponent’s first baseman while running on base, and underwent fixation on his clavicle. He has spent four months rehabilitation alone, which made it difficult for him to participate in the spring camp. However, he started rehabilitation in earnest since November last year, and has now recovered to 70 percent of his physical condition.

“It’s been a long time since I gave up my personal greed. I play for the team and the championship,” Choi said. “I used to say that my team was in the top five, but now I can play for the top five as well. Especially when I look at fielders, I think it’s not bad,” Choi said. “I don’t need foreign pitchers. I don’t need Eric Peddy (former NC Dinos). I think foreign pitchers who run just 150 innings will do it. I believe that we can achieve this year’s championship.” 먹튀검증

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