|Kang In-kyu, an infielder of the Korea University team, walks toward the baseball field in a game against Yonsei University held at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in southern Seoul in this September 2017 file photo. / Courtesy of Korea University|
Baseball player-author seeks second chance in forthcoming KBO draft
By Kang Hyun-kyung
"Uncaught Third Strike: It's Ain't Over Till It's Over" is a coming-of-age novel revolving around protagonist Kang Pa-chi, a junior baseball player who rises to stardom with his ceaseless efforts to improve his performance.
The baseball story published last week by Seoul-based Book Recipe publishing house has drawn attention for its rarity ― it was written by an actual baseball player.
Author Kang In-kyu, 23, a senior of Korea University, said although his book is fiction, some parts are based on his personal experiences.
He worked on the manuscript for the past four years, starting when he joined the Korea University baseball team. He felt compelled to write after he failed to make the cut in the 2016 Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) draft when he was a high school senior.
"It was the time when I thought seriously about quitting baseball," Kang told The Korea Times on Tuesday. "I was frustrated because I did my best to be a great player and I had succeeded until then. I thought my baseball career was over"
Back in 2016, his team, Deoksu High School, clinched the championship title at the 71st Blue Dragon Flag National High School Baseball Championship after defeating rival Seoul High School in the finals.
Kang won the MVP Award for hitting a homer in the final game which helped his team win. He was also the leader in RBIs and home runs at the tournament.
The high school baseball hero, however, was brushed away in the 2016 draft.
"I didn't know what to do… I succeeded in that feat and it was such a remarkable year for me as my high school team made the national championships. I was an MVP there. But no baseball club showed any interest in me," he said.
His parents encouraged him to take his time to figure out whether he still wanted to pursue a career as a baseball player.
They advised their son to start something that could inspire him to rekindle his passion for baseball. Blogging was one of things they recommended he explore.
"They knew I kept a journal about my baseball training and experiences," he said.
Following his parents' advice, he started blogging about baseball and working on the manuscript for his novel. Like Kang, the protagonist also began his baseball career later than other players. But he becomes a star athlete after making numerous efforts to outperform his peers.
"Uncaught Third Strike" is one of the few sports fiction novels written by an athlete.
"It's an interesting and realistic story," said baseball commentator Heo Gu-yeon. "Like the protagonist, teens dream, work hard to achieve their dream. Sometimes they fail but they try again to make it work. Being young is kind of a perk because they can restart any time."
|"Uncaught Third Strike: It's Ain't Over Till It's Over" by Kang In-kyu|
While working on the story, Kang said, he realized he still had a strong passion for baseball.
He himself handpicked the title and subtitle for his fiction novel.
Uncaught third strike is a baseball term which is used when a batter is allowed to run toward first base when the catcher fails to catch a pitch that would have led to a strikeout. The subtitle of his book ― "It's Ain't Over Till It's Over" ― is a famous phrase first uttered by Major League Baseball legend Yogi Berra at the 1973 National League pennant race.
"They are my two favorite baseball-related phrases. They are about second chances, and I took them as meaning that if I keep working hard against all odds, opportunities will come," he said. "Whenever I was down, the phrases lifted my spirits and encouraged me not to give up."
He changed his first name from Jun-hyeok to In-gyu earlier this year. It shows his resolve to improve his performance. "I saw several KBO players who performed better after changing their names and restarting with fresh minds, so I emulated them," he said.
Kang likened baseball to life. They are similar in that those who never give up will be the winners, he said.
"Uncaught Third Strike" was released days before the 2020 KBO first-year player draft which is slated to take place next Monday. Ten KBO clubs will select 10 players each among the candidates. The candidates include high school and university players and the baseball players who were unable to start their Major League Baseball careers in the U.S. Kang is also planning to compete.
"I'm anxious to play in any KBO team and hope that one of the clubs will pick me in the draft," he said. He added that he knew how tough it is to make the cut.
Asked how he wanted to be remembered as an athlete, Kang said he hopes baseball fans can remember him as a persistent, hard-working player who also has great heart. "My role model is LG Twins' outfielder Park Yong-taek. He's well-known among baseball players as a man of character. He is a principled man, too, and tries not to eat or drink junk food or beverages. I'd like to be a player like him," he said.