Kim adjusting during strange first year in USA

May 19th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- This wasn’t the rookie season thought he was going to have. After signing a two-year deal with the Cardinals in the offseason, the Korean lefty envisioned taking his solid spring performance and translating it to a full season on the mound for the Cardinals.

Instead, as the coronavirus pandemic shut down baseball, Kim is just feeling grateful he’s found a throwing partner in St. Louis.

As players scattered to their homes across the country when baseball hit the pause button, Kim and his interpreter, Craig Choi, found themselves in unfamiliar territory, wondering what came next. Since then, they’ve moved into an apartment in St. Louis and are trying to adjust to life in a new city during a global pandemic. It’s not easy.

“It’s difficult, but it’s not only us,” Choi said over the phone on Monday. “Everyone's the same, going through the same thing. It’s a tough time, yes, but for everyone. And of course, not just in the baseball world. Other people, like the medical staff, are going through the tough times.”

They’ve found things to keep them occupied, with Kim throwing five times per week, including weekly bullpen sessions, and running sprints twice a week.

Kim and Choi keep in contact with manager Mike Shildt -- who tries to reach out to players once per week and has held two team-wide Zoom calls recently -- and pitching coach Mike Maddux -- who checks in with Kim on Mondays.

Kim wants to be as ready as possible when his Major League career begins, and he has been peppering teammate Adam Wainwright with questions about the league. Wainwright has been to all 30 stadiums and has given Kim tips on how to pitch in the different conditions.

“How these stadiums are and how the wind travels,” Kim said. “Those kinds of things, what to expect when we go to an away stadium vs. the home stadium. Waino is such a diligent guy, and he knows how to stay in shape, even in [tough] times right now.”

Kim and Choi have also passed the tests to get their Missouri drivers licenses. Both have an international drivers permit, but they expect to be in the United States longer than it will be valid. Plus, they had the time.

“We thought we might as well,” said Choi, who is Kim’s interpreter for not only baseball, but for everyday life. The two are in this together.

In his free time, Kim plays video games (League of Legends is one of his favorite) and watches Korean movies (he’s seen “Parasite” many times, and he enjoys action movies). Choi likes watching Korean documentaries, and he follows the news to stay on top of when baseball may return.

Kim said he isn’t paying much attention to the Korean Baseball Organization, which opened its season a few weeks ago. There are two reasons for that: The apartment doesn’t have cable, and the SK Wyverns, Kim’s old team, are 1-10 and haven’t gotten off to the greatest start.

“He sees the result,” Choi said, “and he’s really not into it.”

Kim and Choi contemplated returning to South Korea to wait for the season to start, but they and the Cardinals decided against it for now because they might have trouble returning when baseball activities resume. It wasn’t an easy decision, either, considering Kim’s family remains in South Korea. He video chats with his wife and two children daily. They planned to visit Kim during the All-Star break this year, but that won’t happen. Kim doesn’t know when the next time he’ll see his family is, but he’s grateful for the video chats.

“The main thing is, I’m just bored,” Kim said. “If there was a baseball season going on, I would be busy. I wouldn’t have as much time to think about how much I miss them. But since I’m not busy, I’m thinking about them a lot. They’re all healthy and safe, as the coronavirus cases in Korea have dropped dramatically. So that’s good, and I love talking with them. But I miss them.”