“I’ve dreamed of it all my life,” Bae said through team interpreter Young Choe. “I’m so excited. I’m ready to go.”
To make room for Bae on the active roster, Pittsburgh placed catcher Tyler Heineman on the 7-day concussion injured list.
In his Major League debut, Bae drew his first walk, collected his first hit and swiped two bases in the Pirates' 6-5 loss to the Cubs.
In 108 games with Triple-A Indianapolis this season, Bae slashed .289/.362/.430 with eight home runs, 30 stolen bases and a 112 wRC+. Most of Bae’s Minor League defensive experience came in the middle infield, though this season he has also spent time in left and center field. The Pirates plan to tap into that versatility to get Bae exposure at various positions over the final 12 games of the season.
“That versatility is huge,” manager Derek Shelton said. “We've talked about it I think since I've got here. There's only nine spots in the order, and the more spots you can play, it gives you more opportunity to get at-bats. His versatility is very helpful there.”
The Pirates signed Bae out of South Korea for $1.25 million in March 2018. The following year, he was suspended 30 games for violating the Minor League Baseball Player Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy after being found guilty of assaulting his then-girlfriend by a South Korean court. Bae was issued a fine, but no jail sentence.
“Luckily for me, I’ve met so many people who have influenced me to a better side,” Bae said. “Those people have taught me to be a better person and better player. They’ve helped me and supported me. Especially for me, I came from Korea, I was alone by myself. I don’t speak English. I don’t speak any other language. My teammates helped me. They’ve supported me. The clubhouse feels like home. It has influenced me to be a better person and a better player.”
Ben Cherington, who wasn’t yet the Pirates’ general manager when the suspension was handed down, addressed the incident as well.
“I think Ji Hwan has had an opportunity to keep growing, obviously as a player, but as a person, also,” he said. “What I’ve seen over the last three years is continued growth, first at the [alternate] site in , then last year in [Double-A] Altoona, then [Triple-A] Indianapolis, for the most part, this year. We’ve seen him continue to grow as a person, continue to see him make better and better choices and also get good feedback from teammates.
“One of the strongest signals you can get on a player and what kind of person he is is how his teammates interact with him, how they’re drawn to him and what you hear from them. That’s been consistently positive in the time that I’ve been with the Pirates. Of course, he understands he has a responsibility to continue that, to continue growing in a positive direction as a person."
Upon arriving at PNC Park on Friday, Bae found himself in the starting lineup, batting ninth and playing second base.