KBO Re-export Kelly Makes My Life’s Best Decision for Korea
The first foreign player system was introduced in the KBO League in 1998. With the system in place for more than 20 years, hundreds of players have gone through the league. There are overwhelmingly more cases of failure than success, but there are players who have achieved the “Korean Dream” through the needle hole. Tyrone Woods, who won the MVP (best player) for the first time in foreign player history, Dustin Nippert, the only foreign pitcher to conquer 100 wins in his career, and Eric Thames, who opened the first 40-40 (stealing) club epoch, made a page in KBO league history.
Merrill Kelly (34, current Arizona Diamondbacks) is also an indispensable success story. Kelly, a minor leaguer who had no experience in Major League Baseball, played four years after signing with the SK Wyverns (currently SSG Landers) in December 2014. Except for 2016, when he recorded 48 wins, 32 losses, and 3.86.9 ERA, he won double-digit wins every year. He also played in the 2018 Korean Series (KS) and laid a stepping stone to winning the KS title. The club that watched his performance was MLB Arizona. Kelly crossed the Pacific Ocean in December 2018, signing a four-year contract with Arizona for up to $14.5 million (18.8 billion won). He achieved his dream of making his “Big League debut” in April of the following year and has been defending the Arizona mound for the fourth year this year.
In a written interview with Daily Sports, he said, “Four years in Korea is not just helpful. It was very helpful. “It was four years that I could grow into a human being as well as a pitcher,” he said. “Thanks to that, I was able to maximize my potential.” Through my experience in the KBO League, I learned about a new environment and batters and learned how to apply them,” he said.
It could have been a reckless choice for him to come to Korea. When signing with SK, Kelly was a member of Triple-A (Durham Bulls) under the Tampa Bay Rays’ minor league. In 2014, Triple-A’s performance was observed with 9 wins, 4 losses, and a 2.76 ERA. He was also 26 years old. I could look forward to a big league call-up, but he headed to Korea. Kelly said, “I’ve never regretted that choice. Even if I go back to that moment, I’ll make the same decision. “I think it was the best decision in my career,” he said. “I love the memories and all the journeys I’ve made in Korea for four years.”
Thames (former NC Dinos) is a representative foreign player who “reported” to the U.S. before Kelly. Thames, who has played for NC for three years since 2014, made headlines by winning a three-year contract with the MLB Milwaukee Brewers after the 2016 season. His big league career didn’t last long. Kelly has a long run compared to Thames. In April, he renewed his contract with Arizona for a two-year total of $18 million (23.3 billion won). If the club’s option is exercised, it can wear the Arizona uniform until 2025.
“Thames was one of the best hitters I’ve ever seen when I was playing in the KBO League,” Kelly said. It is a great honor for me to be mentioned with him,” he said, adding, “There is no particular secret (to the long run in the big league). I keep studying about batters and try to become a more stable starter,” he said. Kelly, who graduated from both high school and university in Arizona, is incredibly happy for me and my family (with the contract extension in April). I’m just grateful to the club for giving me the opportunity and faith. “I’m also happy that my friends and family, who I’ve been close to since I was young, come to the baseball stadium every day and cheer for me,” he said.
In the KBO League, there are quite a few foreign players who fail to adapt to the league every year. This season alone, Nick Kingham (former Hanwha Eagles) and Ronnie Williams (former KIA Tigers) packed their bags. “Adaptation and change were the two most important things,” Kelly said. Playing baseball may be the same, but if you look inside, the United States and Korea are very different. We should always be flexible in these areas and have a mind to accept new things,” he advised.
Kelly doesn’t forget her memories in Korea. “The most memorable player is Lee Seung-yeop (former Samsung Lions),” he said. “He was an amazing player until the last season. I was lucky to see the end of a great legend. Choi Hyung-woo (KIA) is also memorable,” he said. “The most memorable moment is, of course, the moment I won the KS. Even when I recall it again, it is still an unbelievable and creepy happy memory 안전놀이터
SK Wyverns, where Kelly was in, was acquired by SSG last season. The team name has changed, but most of the players are teammates who played with Kelly. And SSG is trying to win the KS by maintaining the top spot in the regular season. Kelly said: “It’s been years since I left the team, but of course I’m watching it with interest. In particular, I feel good while cheering because my performance is good this season, he said. “I want to tell my teammates, ‘Let’s win everything until the end of this season!'”