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Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da Police Team disbanding.

July 06,2019
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The Police Baseball Team poses for a photo ahead of its last home game against the Doosan Bears in the Futures League in Goyang, Gyeonggi, on June 30. [YONHAP]
The Police Baseball Team — long one of the only two ways professional baseball players could fulfil their military service with a bat in their hands — will play its last ever game against the Hanwha Eagles Futures League team in Seosan, South Chungcheong, on July 10.

With the support of the KBO, the Police Baseball Team was established on Dec. 1, 2005, to prevent KBO players from have to spend two full years away from the sport while they fulfilled their mandatory military service.

Every year, the KBO provided about 1.5 billion won ($1.3 million) in operating expenses and starting in 2006, the Police Baseball Team joined the Futures League.

“For young athletes, two years of absence for military duty is big,” said Yoo Seung-an, manager of the Police Baseball Team. “Just by looking at the successful players who played for the Police Baseball Team, it shows how much this team has contributed to the development of Korean baseball.”

Just as Yoo said, the Police Baseball Team has played a significant role in developing young players. Throughout 14 seasons, a lot of big names like Yang Eui-ji of the NC Dinos, Min Byung-hun of the Lotte Giants, Jung Soo-bin of the Doosan Bears and Rhee Dae-eun of the KT Wiz joined the Police Team to fulfill their military duty.

Looking at the veterans, former Police Baseball Team players include Choi Hyoung-woo of the Kia Tigers, Son Seung-lak of the Giants and Won Jong-hyun of the Dinos.

Choi is perhaps the biggest star the Police Baseball Team has ever produced. Choi joined the team after he was released by the Samsung Lions. He underwent a major position change with the Police Baseball Team, switching from catcher to outfielder.

Following his performance with the Police Baseball Team, Choi successfully rejoined the Lions after his duty and became one of the KBO’s dominate sluggers.

Yang also experienced success after playing for the Police Baseball Team. Yang, who was drafted by the Bears in 2006, had a lot of potential but wasn’t able to play much as a starting catcher as the Bears already had a starter, Hong Sung-heon. Due to this, the Bears let Yang join the Police Baseball Team in 2007. By consistently getting chances to play in the Futures League game, he quickly became the league’s best catcher once he got discharged.

“There are more than 200 players who went through this [team],” Yoo said.

Despite the opportunities the team gave to so many players, its days are over.

Although July 10 is their very last game, the team won’t get disbanded until the end of August as that is when the current players get discharged. Once the Police Baseball Team gets disbanded, the only option for current KBO players to fulfill their military duty while playing ball is the Sangmu Baseball Team, which also plays in the Futures League.

Yet as spots are limited, more players are going to have to join the regular military.

“I was happy to see Park Jin-woo [of the Dinos] play well this year, after building up his skill last year here,” said pitching coach Lee Han-jin. “I’m just disappointed that the players are getting less opportunity to get these kinds of chances.”

BY KIM HYO-KYUNG [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]