PITTSBURGH -- Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang, working his way back to the Majors after nearly two years away, told reporters on Wednesday he stopped drinking alcohol after being arrested for driving under the influence in South Korea in December 2016.In his first interview with American media since 2016, Kang
PITTSBURGH -- Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang, working his way back to the Majors after nearly two years away, told reporters on Wednesday he stopped drinking alcohol after being arrested for driving under the influence in South Korea in December 2016.
In his first interview with American media since 2016, Kang took responsibility for his actions and said he is following the treatment program recommended jointly by MLB and the MLB Players Association.
"Obviously I'm not touching a drop of alcohol moving forward," Kang said through interpreter Mark Kim at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.
Kang's DUI arrest on Dec. 2, 2016, was later revealed to be his third since '09. He did not inform the Pirates or the Nexen Heroes, his former Korea Baseball Organization club, of either previous charge.
"Looking back at it, it was an ill-informed decision and I'm very regretful for doing that," Kang said.
Kang's driver's license was rescinded after his DUI arrest, so Kim will serve as his driver moving forward. The DUI charge left Kang unable to obtain a work visa to enter the United States until April. Kang said he was not sure how many visa applications were denied before he was finally granted entry into the U.S., as the process was "mostly handled" by the Pirates' organization and his Octagon agency.
"I'm just really grateful and generous for the second opportunity that the U.S. government has given me, and I'm prepared to do my best," Kang said.
Over the winter, Kang had a brief and unsuccessful stint in the Dominican Winter League before returning to South Korea. Last month, Kang reported to the Pirates' Spring Training complex in Florida and started a Spring Training-type program under the club's supervision. He began playing for Class A Advanced Bradenton last Friday.
"It was obviously difficult to prepare for something that had no deadline or a date," Kang said. "I just tried to do my best -- given my situation -- to mentally and physically prepare myself so that I can be the same player that I was in Pittsburgh two years ago."
Kang said he feels good physically but could not estimate when he will be ready to play in the Majors. Hours after his interview, Kang hit his third homer in his fifth game for Bradenton. He is now 7-for-17 with five walks, three strikeouts and eight RBIs. The Pirates are expected to send him to Triple-A Indianapolis, perhaps as soon as this weekend, so he can face higher-level competition before jumping back to the big leagues.
"The first time I came to Pittsburgh and this time in my return to Pittsburgh, the same objective is to help out the team so that we can win a World Series," Kang said. "I'll be doing my absolute best to help out the team in any way I can."
Manager Clint Hurdle said he has watched video of Kang playing in Bradenton, where he has worked at third base and shortstop. Kang was limited to third base in 2016 after undergoing season-ending knee surgery in September 2015. He may play both positions if he proves capable of doing so during his Minor League assignment.
"The work is being done," Hurdle said. "He seems to be in a pretty good place right now."
In 2015, Kang became the first hitter to jump directly from the KBO to MLB. A productive and popular player during his first stint with the Pirates, Kang hit .273/.355/.483 with 36 homers and 120 RBIs over 229 games. He said he is uncertain how he will be received when he returns to Pittsburgh.
"I haven't thought that far, obviously, because I'm focusing on getting back into baseball shape right now," Kang said. "But whatever the reaction is, even if there are jeers from the crowd, that's something that I deserve and I'll take full responsibility and ownership to that reaction."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.