South Koreans identify with 'Iron Man'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Young Ho Kim, one of the coaches of the South Korea entry in the Cal Ripken World Series for 12-year-olds being played in Aberdeen, doesn't speak English, but knows the name of a certain former Orioles star.

The sound of Ripken's name prompted a smile and thumbs-up gesture from Kim, while his team waited during yesterday's six-hour rain delay to play Mexico.

The team may have wished the delay had lasted longer as Nestor Lopez Zamora ended up throwing a one-hitter against the Koreans as Mexico recorded a surprising 7-1 win.

"People in Korea have a lot of respect for Cal and it's every kid's dream to be a baseball player like him," Kim said through interpreters.

"He's a hero to us. We know him as Chul-in. That's 'Iron Man' in your language and it means discipline and determination, which our kids have. That's why we won [the international bracket] three times."

Kim said his team has to play exceptionally well to win because "the American kids are born into it, born to play baseball and we have to work very hard to compete. And the American kids are very big and have more freedom to play. We are not very big, but we concentrate on the basics."

The South Korean team is proud that the Chicago Cubs' Hee Seop Choi, known as the "Big Choi," is a graduate of its program.

Flying 23 hours, with stops in California and Philadelphia, South Korea has been the Cal Ripken World Series runner-up three consecutive years. None of the three previous champions - Visalia, Calif. (2002), South Lexington, Ky. (2001) and West Palm Beach, Fla. (2000) - is back.

"We are so happy to be back and feel very honored and thankful," Kim said. "We live in such a small country and this is such a big country, and without American sponsors it wouldn't be possible for us to be here."

Kim said his 15-player team played 20 games before coming to the United States. Its games are played on dirt fields, and host parent Jennifer Dodson said the players were "very excited" when they got to practice at Ripken Stadium and Cal Sr.'s Yard (in their downsized versions) a couple of days ago.

"They have to get the feel of the grass fields when we come over here," Kim said.

Several members of the entourage standing near Kim smiled and made gestures to indicate how impressed they and the youths were with Ripken Stadium. The delay, however, was making the players edgy.

Dodson offered "Kim-bobs" to all takers in the press room, saying they were rings of seaweed with a center of crab, lobster and Korean sausage pieces that the players eat before they play.

"It brings them luck," Dodson said.

Maybe luck enough to finally win the World Series and take the big trophy home.

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