“Mungyeong Stadium (Sangsung’s home stadium) is not even a dome stadium, and his face has turned white. I guess he didn’t work hard in the army.”
KIA Tigers manager Kim Jong-kook welcomed Choi Won-jun’s return from the military in an interview before the team’s game against Kiwoom Heroes in the ‘2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League’ at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on the 13th.
KIA’s starting line-up for the game was Ryu Ji-hyuk (third base), Choi Won-jun (first base), Socrates Brito (centre field), Choi Hyung-woo (designated hitter), Kim Sun-bin (second base), Ko Jong-wook (left field), Lee Woo-sung (right field), Shin Beom-soo (catcher) and Park Chan-ho (shortstop). The starting pitcher was Yang Hyun-jong. Choi Won-jun was given a chance to start as soon as he returned to the team. It has been 1446 days since Choi started at first base since 28 June 2019 against Suwon KT.
Coach Kim Jong-kook said, “Choi Won-jun is starting at first base today. I’ve been talking to him on KakaoTalk and on the phone since I was in the business, asking him to prepare well and train a lot. He’s a player who adapts quickly and it’s a position he’s played in the past. I don’t plan to play first base all the time, but I plan to play the outfield as well,” Choi said of Won-jun.
“It will be different when Na Sung-bum returns,” said Kim Jong-kook, who added, “Choi Won-jun is going to play first base first and see how things go. In the second half of the game, Kim Kyu-sung may move to first base and Choi Won-jun may move to the outfield to strengthen the defence. Right field is his most comfortable position. However, if Na Sung-bum comes in, I will go to centre or left field.”
Choi Won-jun said, “My shoulder has been hurting, and the coach was very worried about me. I’m fine now. In fact, when I was looking at the team composition, I thought it would be good to play first base if I wanted to play a lot of games, so I prepared for a first base mitt, but the coach said he wanted me to play first base, so I practised from then on. I played first base in 2018 or so, and luckily my body still remembers it,” he said, showing confidence in his defence.
After seeing Choi Won-jun for the first time in a long time, coach Kim Jong-guk said, “His face looks younger and his body is slimmer. Mungyeong Stadium (the home stadium of Sangsung) isn’t even a dome stadium, and his face has turned white. He must not have worked hard in the army,” he joked.
Choi Won-jun, who heard what Kim Jong-kook said, laughed and said, “That’s because sunscreen is good these days.” “In the army, I wanted to grow my body and hit long balls, so I stayed in the 90kg range. Then I realised that the best baseball I can play is still to run fast and play with speed and strength, so I lost weight. I lost about 10kg and now I’m around 81-82kg,” he said.
“Choi Won-joon, who said he spent one year and six months imagining being cheered on by fans in the army, said, “Every day before I went to bed, I thought about batting for the first time. I think it will be emotional, but today I have to go out there and focus on the game. After the game, I’m sure I’ll think of something, but for now, I’ll focus on the game,” he said, adding that he was determined to do his best in the game 안전놀이터.