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'In very good spirits,' Kang visits teammates

Injured infielder joins Pirates prior to Monday's game vs. Cardinals

PITTSBURGH -- Tough defeat or not, Monday night was one of the Pirates' most encouraging of the season. Shortly before taking the PNC Park field for what would be a deflating 3-0 loss to the Cardinals, they were stoked by a clubhouse and dugout visit from Jung Ho Kang.

Kang, operated on Sept. 17 for a torn left lateral meniscus and fractured tibial plateau in his left knee, rolled in on a wheelchair, accompanied by his parents, who had come from their South Korean home following their son's surgery.

Teammates described Kang as being "in very good spirits."

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"He has a very difficult recovery ahead of him," said second baseman Neil Walker, "but he is already looking ahead."

The injury to Kang, incurred when the Cubs' Chris Coghlan slid into his planted left leg on a play at second base in the Sept. 17 game, is severe enough that he may not be able to resume baseball activities until mid-May.

"He gave me a hug and told me he would be back strong, better than before," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It was great to see him, smiling and being encouraging."

Hurdle returned the hug on behalf of arguably Kang's biggest admirer -- Christian, the manager's 10-year-old son.

"Jung Ho's parents were very nice. They thanked us and brought us presents for having taken care of their son," Hurdle said. "Christian got an elaborate Samurai outfit. He loves it. He had it on this morning, the whole getup, and he looked great."

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At Kang's side, as usual, was H.K. Kim, his season-long companion/interpreter who has become more important to the club than imagined, particularly in the wake of Kang's injury and hospitalization.

"H.K. has turned out to be a real five-tool player," Hurdle said, appreciatively, "with all the other roles he's had to fill, and done them fantastically."

Kang's ballpark visit marked the first time the Bucs had seen their teammate in person since the injury -- but not the first time they had seen him.

The players had a FaceTime encounter with Kang from the Wrigley Field clubhouse during their recent series in Chicago -- a couple of days after they had gone out of their way to make him feel a part of the postseason-clinching celebration they had held in Coors Field.

"A bunch of the guys texted with him while that was going on," Walker said. "But it was just great to see him in here, feeling better and smiling at everyone."

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast.
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