It has been 17 seasons since the first foreign player set foot in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) in 1998. Since then, hundreds of foreign players have played in the KBO. For most, the KBO has acted as a “stopover” destination for players, or an opportunity to collect one last paycheck. But there have been others who successfully embraced the transition of playing and living in a different country. One of those is Ryan Sadowski, our KBO Seminar Director. Sadowski pitched for the Lotte Giants in 2010-2012, while posting a 29-24 record with a 4.03 ERA in 460 innings.
Recently, he conducted an interview with Jae-Ho Kim at MK Sports, to discuss about his life post-Korea, as well as the upcoming KBO Seminar.
Original interview article can be found here:
Kim: There are so many Korean fans who miss you, Ryan. Could you say hello to them and let them know how have you been?
Sadowski: I want to start off by saying hello to my fans and thanking them for the unwavering support. I have been working hard, and the work that I am doing makes me happy. I have been working to ensure that the fans of the KBO continue to see a great product on the field.
Kim: There are so many foreign players that have played in the KBO, but no one has drawn as much interest as you have in the KBO. Is there any special reason?
Sadowski: The KBO is the most interesting emerging baseball market in the world. The Korean people put a high value on education. Having an educated, well-informed culture assures that the society will flourish. I want to be a part of something that has the ability to be special, and I feel like baseball in Korea can be truly elite.
Kim: Recently, there have been some concerns about the decline of level of play in the KBO. In recent years, the offensive has been explosive but pitching performance has been on the decline. The National Team has also struggled at international tournaments (such as, the 2013 WBC, 2014 Asian Games: they won the gold medal, but was not dominant). What do you think about that?
Sadowski: The champion of baseball tournaments is usually determined by the team that has the most outstanding front line pitching. Currently in Korea, the offense is ahead of the pitching and defense. Currently the KBO has some great hitters and that was able to help Team Korea win the 2014 Asian Games. In 2008, the Korean pitchers were better. Ryu Hyun-Jin and Kim Kwang-Hyun were 2 of the best left handed pitchers in the world. It’s a natural cycle that will likely evolve in the next few seasons.
Kim: Some American baseball writers think of the KBO as a ‘high scoring Double-A’ league. Do you agree with that?
Sadowski: It is very unlikely that any of those writers watched ten KBO games and ten double A games last year. The articles that you are referring to are written by people looking to entertain the public. They are not informed experts on Korean and Double A baseball. Those American baseball writers are manufacturing news for the purpose of entertainment.
Kim: I heard that you and GSI will be hosting a special seminar for first year foreign players heading to the KBO. Could you talk more about it?
Sadowski: I was contracted by GSI to host a KBO seminar for some of the new foreign players going to the KBO for the 2015 season. In this seminar, I will be working with GSI to educate new foreign baseball players about cultural expectations that they should have prior to joining their teams. For example, many foreign players have misconceptions about the role of their translator and the way they should be treated. These foreigners need to be taught which expectations are proper and which expectations are unrealistic. In speaking with the players who are excited to learn about Korea, I feel like they will contribute to a much higher retention rate than the 33% retention rate that the KBO has seen since 2010.
Kim: When you mentioned to teams that ‘we are hosting this seminar,’ How did KBO teams react?
Sadowski: The reaction has been about 33% positive, 33% neutral, and 33% negative. Originally, I believed that all the teams would be excited to hear that there is a service to help the foreign player retention rate. However, a few teams were skeptical of the assistance that a player education seminar would be able to provide. I know that properly educating all the foreign players in the future is inevitable. The teams that have foreign players attending this seminar will see a drastic improvement in player understanding compared to those who have not been educated.
Kim: There are talented foreign players who played in the KBO, but most of them failed to showcase their true talents. What do you think has been the biggest problem?
Sadowski: Finding foreign players who will be successful in the KBO is very difficult. The most important part starts with player acquisition. With teams spending millions of dollars on foreign players, scouting is more important than ever. I believe teams should have full-time baseball scouts who understand both Korean baseball and professional baseball in America in order to reconcile the similarities and differences for the purpose of making educated acquisition decisions. It is also very important to retain the talented players who are already in Korea by making sure they are well-educated and well provided for.
Kim: Going back to your experience in Korea, what was the toughest challenge for you? and how did you overcome it?
Sadowski: After starting 0-3 with a 6.23 ERA through my first five starts, I was thinking I would be lucky to spend three more weeks playing in Korea. I learned how to adjust to the culture in those first five starts. I was lucky to have met some great people in Korea that taught me a lot about the language and the culture. I received assistance from so many people and those friends are like family to me. They are impossible to replace and I cannot express how grateful I am that they have been a part of my life.
Kim: Lastly, can you give any tips for the foreign players heading to the KBO?
Sadowski: Invest in the experience that is being offered to you by going to play in the KBO. The money that you will make can buy a lot of objects, but the experience that you are about to undergo is priceless. Maximize that experience and be thankful that you worked hard and have the natural talent to play in Korea.