- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2000

Two minutes before stretching is to commence on the field, all of the Arizona Diamondbacks are present and accounted for, save one missing relief pitcher.
Except you can't really say Byung-Hyun Kim is missing because everybody on the team knows where he is. Or what he is doing, anyway.
"He's sleeping somewhere," said Roger Riley, the Diamondbacks' traveling secretary. "That kid could fall asleep anywhere… . He'll fall asleep on the bags, fall asleep in the equipment room. All he does is pitch and sleep."
A couple of hours later, Kim is wide awake and mowing down the San Diego Padres with a slider that seems to come from a whole different hemisphere.
And it does.
The 21-year-old from Kwayng-san-ku Songjung-dong, South Korea, is a veritable phenom in the larger phenomenon of Asian players on major league baseball rosters.
Fellow Korean Chan Ho Park plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Jim Ho Cho, for the Boston Red Sox. Japan is represented by Hideki Irabu of the Montreal Expos, Hideo Nomo of the Detroit Tigers, Kazuhiro Sasaki of the Seattle Mariners, Shigetoshi Hasegawa of the Anaheim Angels, Mac Suzuki of the Kansas City Royals and Masato Yoshii of the Colorado Rockies.
"I know it seems like they're the flavor of the month," Diamondbacks manager Buck Showalter says, "but especially with the way pitching is in the majors nowadays, we'll be seeing a lot more of them."
Indeed, all of the aforementioned are pitchers. There are some Asian position players in the minor leagues slugging Dodgers prospect Chin-Feng Chen of Taiwan was the California League's Most Valuable Player last summer, and the Padres recently signed a promising first baseman named Young Jin-Jung but the heavy emphasis throughout the Far East is on pitching.
"The Korean hitter is getting a little bit better," said Kim, whose advertised height of 5-foot-11 seems to have lost a couple inches in the translation. "Korean people are eating more, getting a little bit bigger, but American hitters still have more power. All the best players over there are pitchers."
The Red Sox have been particularly aggressive in that market for pitchers, too; their AAA staff in Pawtucket includes Sang-Hoon Lee and Sun Kim of South Korea and Tomo Ohka of Japan. The latter went 15-0 in the minors last year with a 2.31 earned-run average. Lee, a 29-year-old left-hander with long hair dyed blond, signed a two-year major league contract worth $3.35 million.
The San Francisco Giants had Masanori Murakami on their staff in the mid-1960s, but the Asian pipeline didn't really begin to flow until the Dodgers came up with Hideo Nomo, the Japanese right-hander who was the National League's Rookie of the Year in 1995. One year later, Nomo produced one of the greatest pitching feats of the '90s: a no-hitter at Coors Field, the high-altitude hitters' haven that serves as the home of the Colorado Rockies.
Off-speed pitches and control long have been their trademark, but more and more Asian pitchers are showing up with higher velocity. Kim's underhand slider both climbs and swerves widely, almost unfairly so, because his fastball also is regularly clocked over 90 mph.
For his first trick and his first save in his first major league appearance last year Kim struck out Mike Piazza of the Mets and put away both John Olerud and Edgardo Alfonzo in order. Of the 32 outs he recorded in the Cactus League, 24 were strikeouts.
A black belt in martial arts, Kim often reacts to his own pitches and umpires' calls with what resemble tae kwon do moves. Umpires don't always interpret them well, either.
Communication and loneliness certainly are the biggest problems for a 21-year-old living halfway around the world from home and family. Players from Latin America are so populous in professional baseball that there's never a problem finding teammates who speak their language. Not so the Asian players especially the Koreans.
"Yes, it can be so-so difficult," said Kim, applying one of his favorite American adjectives and holding his fingers a couple of inches apart.
After starting last year with the Diamondbacks' Class AA team in El Paso and moving on to AAA Tucson and earning promotion to the majors with his 6-0 record Kim began to develop a better grasp of Spanish than English. He'll go out with teammates, partly with the idea of improving his English, but he'll also visit homes of Korean-Americans on the road.
"He's been able to find the Korean community in just about every city in the National League," said Tony Attanasio, a San Diego agent who represents Kim and many other players from the Far East. "But next year the Diamondbacks are moving to the American League, so he has to start all over."
Shyly, but gamely, Kim agrees to interviews. Unnecessarily, he apologizes profusely to almost every question for not speaking better English, though his vocabulary far exceeds most Americans' grasp of Korean.
But he's learning fast about this country. And Western.
"My favorite song is 'Stand by Your Man,' " he said, proceeding to sing the title of the Tammy Wynette twanger. "And I like 'My Maria.' And Carlos Santana."

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