“From the loser’s group to the finish and the first free agency that I hadn’t imagined, they persevered like tenacity.” 

What does Yang Eui-ji say often?

At the beginning of the season, 메이저놀이터 when (Yang) Eui-ji hyung was good, he said it wasn’t 100%, but the pitch itself wasn’t bad. Even if you put it in the strike zone, opponent batters can’t hit it easily, so he said to have confidence, which helped me overcome a personal crisis.

It is the first time to finish full-time, but in what way is it different?

I said I was preparing for a full-time finish season, but it didn’t work out well from the beginning of the opening, so I thought it wouldn’t be easy. But fortunately, the result itself came out well and I am relieved. The manager, coaches, and teammates often tell me to feel proud as a closer, so now I feel more confident and relaxed. Even if the pitching balance is not good that day, it feels like I gained the know-how to solve the game.

Doosan fans want to see the victory ceremony of closer Hong Kun-hee and catcher Yang Eui-ji more often. Photo = Reporter Cheon Jeong-hwan
I am curious about the charm of the closer.

It is a position to protect the team victory at the last moment, and there is definitely a sense of pleasure at the moment of finishing the game. Sometimes the pressure is great, but the feeling of finishing the game and high-fiving with my teammates at the end is an incomparable feeling.

Do you have any plans to create a personal ceremony as a closer?

I’m not the type to hold a ceremony, so I don’t think about it. (Jung) Cheolwon is good at ceremonies, so Cheorwon should be in charge (laughs).

After the trade, it seems that Jung Cheol-won has now taken over the role of setup man in the 8th inning, which was played by Hong Gun-hee. You know the difficulties of that role better than anyone.

Cheol-won has a good pitch itself, so I think he is a pitcher who can throw consistently well as long as he takes good care of his body. There will definitely be an aftermath of throwing a lot after coming up to the first team last year. Also, since he is the first player to play a full-time season with the first team, there must be many things he does not know, but he wants to emphasize that physical condition management is really important.

Jeong Cheol-won is also going through difficult times at the beginning of the season.

A bullpen pitcher cannot pitch every day for a season. Of course, there are pitches that concede a turnaround or concede a large number of runs. Perhaps Cheolwon will find a tougher moment than he thinks. Still, it is the pitcher’s destiny to overcome that difficult moment. Cheolwon has a good personality, so he is a style that can overcome that part well. When I fall into a bad idea, I tend to get into it for a long time, but Cheolwon does it well. He is a player who can clear his head right away and throw well in the next game, so I believe and watch him.

Certainly, the role of setup man in the 8th episode seems to be the most difficult position. It is a role that requires preparation and climbing even in ambiguous situations.

I’ve experienced it too, but you have to be prepared to go out in various situations. As a result, I often relax my body. In the end, like I said before, the more you do, the more you have to take care of your body during the season. When you go through a full-time season, there will definitely come a difficult and exhausting time. If you take good care of your body on a daily basis, you can overcome the crisis well.

You are recording 7 saves for the season. Did you set a separate goal for saves?

Personally, when I set a numerical goal like that, something didn’t work out. So, the biggest goal is to keep the team victorious as much as possible while keeping the finishing position until the end of the season. Rather, in terms of numbers, I think the goal should be to not increase the number of blown saves from now on.

After the end of this season, Hong Kun-hee will acquire the first FA qualification in his life. He is expected to become one of the biggest free agent pitchers because he has become an irreplaceable closer at Doosan. Photo = Reporter Cheon Jeong-hwan
Teammates are longing for Hong Kun-hee to be the pitching team leader for life. In order to do that, he has to do well this winter (preliminary FA).

My teammates often joke with me, saying, ‘Have you already signed a contract with another team?’ (Laughs). I try not to pay more attention to it because I am a FA. If you are conscious of it, you can dry it more. First of all, you have to finish the season well and look at the situation at that time. As Doosan’s closer this season, I will focus only on protecting the team’s victory.

Personally, I remember seeing it from the KIA days, but even if there were ups and downs, it seems to be a unique feeling in his player life that he is in front of his first FA qualification.

In the early years of his playing career, he often went through difficult times. Even when I was at KIA, I was mainly in charge of selecting and chasing teams. I thought it would be difficult to succeed as a first-team player, but my roommate at the time (Yang) Hyeon-jong gave me advice, saying, ‘Even if it’s not a great position in the eyes of others, it’s important to somehow endure and stay on the first-team mound for a long time.’

As a result, Hong Kun-hee was right.

That’s why I didn’t give up and persisted on the 1st team mound more tenaciously. Going down to the 2nd team, correcting the pitching stance and preparing for the start is a necessary part, but trying to gain experience by throwing the ball on the mound for the 1st team made me who I am today. Thanks to the time I endured so tenaciously with the starting team and the pursuit team, I wonder if I have come to the finish line and the first free agency season I could never have imagined.

I will continue to keep in touch with Yang Hyeon-jong.

Not too long ago, Hyeonjong congratulated his brother when he reached 160 victories. He is a good senior who always supports me, so I keep saying hello. Even during the trade, Hyeon-jong was surprised that his brother returned all calls to players close to Doosan. I am really thankful that KIA took good care of me even when I was the youngest and until I was traded.

The FA story came out earlier, but I think the best scenario would be to remain in good conditions for Doosan, which has fully developed its skills.

Honestly, I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thought of that (laughs). I try not to think too deeply because the time is the time. Whether I stay at Doosan or move to another team, in the end, good conditions will follow if I do well this season. The idea is not to get excited in advance, but to do well this season and then see each other. First of all, if I keep my position as the closer until the end of the season without getting sick, I wonder if the picture I have in mind will come out.

I wonder if the pitcher that Doosan fans love the most is Hong Kun-hee.

But aren’t other young juniors much more popular than me (laughs)? First of all, as much as Doosan fans are cheering for me, I want to repay them with the best possible results. I want to stay with Doosan fans for a long time, but I am also curious about what will happen after this season.

It was also regrettable that the fall baseball stage, which he experienced twice after the trade, was cut off last year. If there is an active performance on the mound in the postseason, it will be a richer winter.

I came to Doosan and experienced runner-up twice, and I couldn’t go to the fall baseball stage for the first time last year, but it was really sad. Not only me, but all my teammates felt resentment. I am so proud that I will definitely return to the fall baseball stage this year. And I hope to be the last pitcher on the final stage of fall baseball.

Lastly, what message would you like to convey to Doosan fans?

Doosan fans are called the number 10 hitters, but I always feel that the enthusiasm for cheering at Jamsil Stadium is really great. Whether winning or losing, I want to give fans a picture of doing their best until the end with Doosan-style performance. I believe that if you cheer until the end of the season, the players will be able to create a moment to repay the fans. I am always grateful (laughs).

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