Kang Min-ho (37-Samsung Lions) is breaking the KBO record for most defensive innings played by a catcher every game. He made his professional debut with the Lotte Giants in 2004 and has played 20 seasons, totaling 16,066 and a third innings (14 days). In 2022, he surpassed 스포츠토토“catcher legend” Park Kyung-wan (now coach of the LG Twins) to become the all-time leader in that category, and on March 13, he became the first player in history to reach the 16,000-inning plateau.

Expected to lead the Korean baseball team since his early 20s, Kang Min-ho first wore the Korean flag in 2006, when he was selected to the Doha Asian Games (AG) baseball team, just three years after joining the team. He went on to play in eight international tournaments until the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Kang Min-ho is also the catcher with the most international tournament appearances since the 1998 Bangkok AG, when the most elite members of the professional ranks began competing.

Min-ho has a long list of accomplishments, including breaking the all-time home run (316) and RBI (1142) records for a catcher, signing three free agent contracts, and winning six Golden Gloves, but for a catcher whose greatest asset is his experience, “Most Defensive Innings Played” and “Most International Games Played” may be his most prestigious accolades.

(HONOLULU, Hawaii, U.S.) Feb. 20 (Yonhap) — World Baseball Classic (WBC) team members Park Kyung-wan and Kang Min-ho pose for a photo at the Central Oahu Regional Park in Honolulu, Hawaii, where the team is training on Tuesday morning. 2009.2.20 utzza@yna.co.kr/2009-02-20 09:49:54/ JEJU ⓒ 1980-2009 ㈜연합뉴스. All rights reserved.

No wrong ball mix

In 2006, his third year in the game, Kang Min-ho appeared in every game (126 at the time) and pitched 1040 innings. He was given a chance from a young age amid a rebuilding trend, and he didn’t miss it. He went on to become one of the KBO’s biggest stars, leading Lotte’s revival (2008-2012).
But it wasn’t just a solid run. Even after making a name for himself, Kang’s defense was not highly regarded. “I wasn’t even a catcher back then,” he says of his early years.

The more he played, the more confused he became about ball mixing. He realized his inadequacies after playing alongside two of Korea’s top catchers, Jin Gap-yong (now coach of the KIA Tigers) at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and Park Kyung-wan at the 2009 World Baseball Classic (WBC). Lotte manager Jerry Royster’s aggressive “physicality” policy before the 2008 season also proved difficult for the catcher to accept.

His repeated failures hardened him. “There were times when I was scared that I was going to get hit (with a hit or home run) when I signed. But when I went into a mental breakdown like that, and I was struggling, I started to see another path. My own ball formulations and routines were created during that time,” she said. He said it was one of the best things he ever did in his baseball career because he didn’t rely on his coach, Han Moon-yeon, to help him get through it.

South Korea protests an umpire’s call during the baseball final against Cuba at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. ISP Photo (International Olympic Press Photo Agency)

At the 2009 WBC, Kang Min-ho played with his role model, Park Kyung-wan, on the national team. He said, “During the game, his eyes were so cold and calm. I learned a lot from his calm demeanor even at crucial moments,” he recalls.

Kang Min-ho didn’t copy Park’s ball formulations. He asked for advice, but even then, he realized that there was no right answer.

Even now, 20 years into his career, Kang Min-ho says, “I think every opponent has different weaknesses and strengths. If there is a gap between the information in my head and the latest data, I try to keep it in mind, but (the opposing batsman) can show a completely different batting style, so I have to use my own experience and react quickly. So there’s no right answer to the ball mix,” he said.

The choices that pitchers and catchers make can lead to a hit or a home run. In baseball, there are times when targeting a batter’s weaknesses doesn’t work, so Kang Min-ho doesn’t think there is a bad pitch. “Every catcher signs after a lot of thought,” he says. There is no right answer, but I don’t think there is a wrong answer either. If the pitcher and catcher have a strategy and a plan, I don’t think you can say ‘it was a bad choice’ based on the result. Every ball has a reason and a meaning,” he said, and he tried to trust his choices.

Now a veteran catcher, Kang Min-ho emphasizes to younger catchers who are disappointed with their performance that “there is no such thing as a bad pitch.” Ask them what their intentions were. After hearing the answer, he says, “That’s the right answer.” “When you have a bad result, you remember it better,” says Kang. Just as a pitcher needs to be hit a lot to grow, a catcher needs to be hit a lot with his own ball mix.”

Min Ho Kang poses with the Golden Photo Award at the 2008 Golden Globe Awards. ISPhoto

A playful catcher takes a firm lead

“It’s a position that supports the pitcher to throw a better ball,” Kang Min-ho said of the catcher, “but it’s also a position that has a big impact when the main player is away. You have to realize how important you are,” he said.

Kang Min-ho started working with the senior pitchers from a young age. At the time, Battery coach Han Moon-yeon even asked the team’s pitchers to “trust his signature and throw.” He had no choice but to study more to repay his coach’s consideration.

Along the way, he realized that a catcher must be responsible and a leader. After establishing his own ball formulation, he led the pitchers by being firm when there was a disagreement. This was true even if they were seniors.

“I preferred to use a changeup, but (Song) Seung-jun (retired) would often show me a fastball (fastball) that was close to the batter’s body so that his other pitches could be effective,” Kang recalls. “If I gave two consecutive fastball signals and he shook his head, I would move my body to the batter’s body and stick to the original sign. I’d move my body toward the batter’s body and stick to the old sign. There were times when I had to lead him like that.”

While he listened to the pitcher’s preferences for pitches and locations whenever possible, Kang was adamant when it came to games. He still tells his pitchers to “trust me if I give the same sign twice in a row.”

Samsung Lions closer Kang Min-ho (far left) celebrates a victory with his juniors. Photo: Samsung Lions

The relationship with foreign pitchers also has a pulpit. At times, some pitchers have been so committed to their careers and skills that they’ve tried to take control of their pitches. This was the case with Mike Montgomery, who played for Samsung in the 2021 season. “He was a jargonist and would only throw the pitches he wanted,” says Kang. I remember telling him, ‘I’ve been playing in the KBO for 16 or 17 years and facing hitters,'” Kang recalls.

The relationship with the foreign pitchers was relatively difficult. Kang Min-ho protected their egos, but sometimes raised his voice. On April 21, 2019, Kang Min-ho broke up a no-hitter for his teammate, pitcher Deck McGwire, against the Hanwha Eagles.

Normally, Min Ho Kang is jovial. Even as a veteran, his aura is upbeat. “I’m an outgoing person, and I like to talk to people first. I feel comfortable approaching the pitcher first. I’m naturally a catcher,” he laughs.

When Kang Min-ho is serious and determined, he is focused on winning. The pitcher seems to feel it too. Kang Min-ho will continue to lead the team in the 2023 season.

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