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KT Wiz celebrates addition of Hwang Jae-gyun

Nov 28,2017
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From left: KT Wiz manager Kim Jin-wook, captain Park Kyung-sun, Hwang Jae-gyun and General Manager Lim Jong-taek at a welcome ceremony on Monday at the Suwon Baseball Stadium. [YONHAP]
The KT Wiz held a welcome ceremony for Hwang Jae-gyun at Suwon Baseball Stadium on Monday.

On Nov. 13, the Wiz announced the signing of a four-year contract worth 8.8 billion won ($8.1 million) with Hwang, who returned to the KBO after playing with the San Francisco Giants for a year.

Hwang started his year in the United States with a home run in his debut game, but failed to make a habit of it. He concluded his season with a disappointing 0.154 batting average with one home run and five RBIs in 18 games.

Hwang’s return to Korea didn’t come as a surprise, but the generous contract did raise eyebrows. Some pundits felt that the Wiz was paying well over the odds because of Hwang’s major league experience.

“Hwang Jae-gyun is one of the best infielders in the KBO and is at his best, having reached his career high in 2016,” said Lim Jong-taek, general manager of the Wiz. “He is a player that sets bigger goals and further challenges himself. He was the first on our list because we believed that he is a player that can grow with the club.”

“The addition of Hwang Jae-gyun is essential,” said Kim Jin-wook, manager of the Wiz. “He has a great chemistry with the team. We’ll prepare well for the upcoming season to set higher expectations.”

Once Hwang announced his return to the KBO, many expected him to join the Lotte Giants, as it was the team Hwang played with for seven seasons. Unexpectedly, he returned to Suwon, where he made his KBO debut with the Hyundai Unicorns in 2007.

Hwang was only able to play for the Unicorns for one season, as the team was dissolved in January 2008 and the players and staff were signed to the new Nexen Heroes. In 2010, Hwang was traded to the Lotte Giants where he stayed until he went to the United States.

Throughout his KBO career, Hwang had a 0.286 batting average with 115 home runs and 594 RBIs.

“Since I was in the United States, the KT Wiz contacted me consistently,” Hwang said. “And they contacted me again when I arrived in Korea. I chose the team because there are a lot of young players that can develop and the club has great potential for the future. My final decision was made because I could see that club really wanted me.”

In the 2018 season, Hwang will use number “10” rather than his regular “13,” as it was the number he wore when he reached his career high in the 2016 season. Returning to Suwon after 11 years - although in a different jersey for a team that didn’t exist back then - Hwang hopes to keep the city’s baseball fans entertained and avoid the bottom of the table.

“[The KT Wiz] finished last for three consecutive seasons, but they’ve gotten better with the addition of Yoon Suk-min and Mel Rojas,” Hwang said. “I watched the young players’ development while I was in the United States. I hope to help the team avoid being last in the KBO. And personally, I want to achieve 20-20 for two consecutive seasons.”

As the youngest team in the KBO, created in 2015, the Wiz has finished last in the standing all three seasons. The team hopes the addition of Hwang will add some much-needed strength at third base.

“Looking back, I think it was a good experience,” Hwang said. “Since spring training, I got to learn and talk about the technical parts. I also got to realize once again how difficult it is to play in the minor leagues. Though it was only a year, I want to tell the players what I learned and move up [in the KBO standing] together.”

BY LEE HYEONG-SEOK [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]