Enthusiasm reigns at Play Ball event in Seoul

March 16th, 2024
Team Korea, the Dodgers' Tyler Glasnow, and Tyler Wade and Pedro Avila of the Padres took part. (AP Photo)

SEOUL -- The 90 Korean Little League players assembled on the front steps of the Gocheok Sky Dome started to walk into the ballpark, but stopped to yell when they realized they were walking past the buses of Team Korea.

Then, they got inside, and showed up -- and it got crazy.

“I love you! I love you! I love you!” rang the shouts from the crowd of young players as a grinning Glasnow surveyed the scene.

Thirty of the young ballplayers were selected from teams in Seoul. Sixty others had competed for the right to be standing in center field of the stadium this afternoon, having been either the champions or runners-up in the U-10 and U-12 categories of the MLB Cup held for young Korean athletes by MLB Korea.

Led by Rick Dell, MLB’s general manager of baseball development in Asia, and Juho “Jay” Kim, events coordinator for MLB Korea, the young athletes rotated between three stations where they practiced fielding, hitting and pitching, aided by representatives of Team Korea, Glasnow, and and of the Padres.

“It's crazy,” Wade said. “The Korean culture has been great. I know they're ecstatic about baseball and having us here, so I'm just happy to be a part of it.”

The Padres also separately held a similar event in partnership with Korean legend Chan Ho Park at a local park in Seoul, with a host of San Diego stars in attendance like Ha-Seong Kim, Woo-Suk Go, Manny Machado and Fernando Tatís Jr., and also had an event with Make-A-Wish kids at the Gocheok Sky Dome.

Glasnow played some catch with the young players at the end of the throwing lines, but the real highlight of the pitching station was when the kids huddled around Glasnow and got the chance to pick his brain -- and, urged on by the Play Ball coordinators, they took advantage of the opportunity with very specific, targeted questions.

“How do you throw your curveball?” one player asked.

"They're very obsessed with getting better, and I love it,” Dodgers pitcher Tyler Glasnow said. (AP Photo)

That sent Glasnow into a coaching session in which he showed them his grip and how he focused on releasing the ball so that it wouldn’t pop up out of his hand and give away the pitch selection -- and the nodding players followed along, copying that grip on baseballs they held in their hands.

They asked next about how he strengthened his body to throw his fastball so hard, how he threw a changeup (“Mine is pretty bad,” Glasnow replied with a laugh) and, drawing some laughs, how he got to be so tall.

“It's been amazing,” Glasnow said. “They love baseball so much here. They're all very curious, and they want to practice, so they ask stuff. They're very obsessed with getting better, and I love it. I find it admirable. I like it.”

Alongside Glasnow stood Samsung Lions right-hander Won Tae-In, a star in his own right who owned a 3.24 ERA in 26 KBO starts last season, who took the opportunity himself to pick Glasnow’s brain off to the side. Byung-Hyun Kim, a Korean baseball legend who was part of the 2001 World Series-winning Arizona team, stood by and watched.

Tyler Glasnow tosses a ball during a skills clinic with local players at Gocheok Sky Dome. (AP Photo)

The specificity of the questions carried over to the fielding drills, where Wade was getting asked questions like whether they should take one or two steps before throwing, and specifics about how intricate they should get with their footwork when preparing to field the ball. They got to try it out just after that, with Wade throwing them grounders and taking grounders in front of the kids while explaining his thought process.

“They're very enthusiastic,” Wade said. “Lots of energy. They were very attentive. They wanted to learn. They asked a lot of good questions. It's cool, because it kind of brings you back to when you were a kid. It's a good experience.”

The session finished with gifts of bat-and-ball sets and baseball cards for the young players -- one of whom started screaming when he got a Shohei Ohtani card.

“That is the dream come true for these kids, a dream come true,” Kim said. “An opportunity they'll never get. When I told these kids that they have something like this happening, I could see and hear the excitement when I told them about it. It's the best. What more can you ask for?

It wasn’t just the young Korean players who were thrilled about the gift -- as soon as Won heard that Ohtani cards were up for grabs, he started asking around with some urgency to see if he could get one of his own, too.