Park is happy for his new beginning
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- This possibly being his last spring in baseball, Chan Ho Park figured that he might as well take his shot at reclaiming major-league glory in the place where he was once an All-Star.
The details of the contract didn’t matter. He wanted to be a Dodger again.
The 34-year old Korean right-hander is back in Dodgertown for the first time in seven years. The man who once signed a five-year, $65-million contract with the Texas Rangers is in camp as a non-roster player who will earn $500,000 if he makes the team, and that’s a big if, considering that he is one of 35 pitchers vying to be on the Dodgers’ opening-day roster.
“I know it’s not going to be easy,” Park said.
But neither were the last six years, marked by repeated trips to the disabled list, a decline in the velocity of his fastball that used to be in the mid-90s and the constant reminders of failed expectations. He spent most of last season in the minors, posting earned-run averages of 5.57 and 6.21 with the triple-A affiliates of the New York Mets and Houston Astros, respectively.
Park said he considered walking away from baseball in recent years, but couldn’t.
Raised in South Korea, he was taught never to quit, a trait that he now thinks derailed his once-promising career and nearly cost him his life.
Whenever he was hurt with Texas, he said, “I was trying to come back before I was 100% ready and I would get hurt again.”
He lasted 3 1/2 seasons with the Rangers, posting a 22-23 record and 5.79 ERA.
But it was two years ago with the San Diego Padres that he barely averted disaster.
Finding massive amounts of blood in his stool in late July, Park had a stint on the disabled list but returned to action without discovering the source of the bleeding.
The bleeding returned on a day Park was scheduled to pitch and only an angry phone call from teammate Woody Williams convinced him to go to the operating table instead of the mound.
As it was, Park said, he lost half of his blood.
"[Williams] was yelling,” Park recalled. “He said, ‘Think about your family. You have a daughter on the way.’ If I was single, I probably would’ve pitched. My wife and baby probably saved my life.”
Doctors removed a small bulge in the small intestine, and, a week later, his wife, Rie, gave birth to their daughter, Elynne. Park’s life was spared, but he wasn’t sure if his career had been.
“I lost 20 pounds,” he said. “I lost power. I felt weird. I wasn’t sure if I could come back.”
Park said he felt that way when he went to camp with the New York Mets last spring. He failed to make the opening-day roster, was called up once and pounded for seven runs in four innings in his only big-league start of the season. He was designated for assignment and signed to a minor-league deal by the Houston Astros, but never made their 40-man roster.
When the season ended, Park told his agent to get him a contract with the Dodgers, whatever the terms were.
Park risked losing an agreed-upon deal by pitching in the Olympic qualifiers for South Korea in the winter, but emerged from the games unscathed and signed a deal. For the first time in years, he said, he felt healthy.
Park will forgo the next round of Olympic qualifying in March to remain with the Dodgers, noting, “This could be my last chance in baseball.” Asked if he might retire if he doesn’t make the club, Park smiled and replied, “No comment.”
He threw a side session on Saturday, with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt observing that his fastball was “fairly consistent” and changeup “pretty good,” but that his breaking pitches required fine-tuning.
“There’s some life to the ball coming out of his hand that maybe we haven’t seen in a couple of years,” Honeycutt said.
Park said he often imagines what it would be like to pitch at Dodger Stadium again.
“I picture it as much as I can so I can believe it,” he said. “It’s my dream.”
Though it would’ve been financially impractical for him to not to have signed with the Rangers, he admitted to sometimes wondering how his career would’ve unfolded had he never left the Dodgers.
“Yeah, honestly, I’ve thought about it,” Park said. “Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten hurt.
“But I’m glad I went through what I went through. It made me focus better, made me stronger.”