Sung Min Kim’s love for baseball has carried him all the way from Baltimore to a full-time job in Korea.
The game has given him much hope and he’s acted out on his dreams to work within baseball.
Kim was hired by the Korean Baseball Organization’s Lotte Giants in September 2019 by former Chicago Cubs Pacific Rim scout supervisor and current Lotte general manager Min-Kyu Sung.
The Mount Saint Joseph and University of Maryland graduate had been a baseball writer before his hiring — scripting pieces for River Avenue Blues, FanGraphs, The Washington Post, VICE Sports and Sporting News, among others.
The process worked out quickly with Sung reaching out to Kim for a discussion at his office, followed by a formal interview two weeks later. The next week, Kim was hired.
“It was quite wild. Everything happened in a span of three weeks,” Kim said. “Before September, I was expecting to ride out the year as a writer, but by the end of the month, I was moving to a new city to start my first job in baseball.”
Kim said his services were sought by teams in Major League Baseball. However, he thought his relationship with Sung and ability to make greater contributions to Lotte’s franchise brought him a better fit.
“Truth be told, this was not the first time a baseball team has approached me for my services,” Kim said. “There were a several major league teams that inquired on me before I took the job with Lotte. However, the reason why I chose the Giants over them is that Min showed faith in my ability to take on a wider set of tasks than what ML teams would have had me do.”
Kim’s story is one of traveling, constant learning and being goal-driven.
Before embarking on his dream to work within the game that he loves, Kim emigrated from South Korea to the United States as a preteen on June 18, 2002, before coming to Maryland in July 2006. The new surroundings for him were interesting, but it wasn’t a complete surprise to him — since Korea was very urbanized. The biggest key to getting by for Kim was to see the Western way of life up close and to grasp the English language.
“When I actually got there, I wouldn’t say it was a huge culture shock, but rather, it was more about getting used to different routines and patterns every day,” Kim said. “By far the most difficult aspect was the language. I would say it took me about three years of speaking English every day to get somewhat comfortable in conversations.”
Kim moved to Howard County, eventually went to Mount Saint Joseph and graduated in 2010. He tried out for baseball, but didn’t make the team. Despite learning that he would never become a professional baseball player at an early age, it didn’t discourage him from venturing into the depths of the games.
He began to look to the internet for throwing and hitting mechanics, finding programs such as Tom House’s National Pitching Association, Paul Nyman’s SETPRO, Dr. Chris Yeager’s swing DVD’s and Charley Lau Jr.’s program.
During his time at the University of Maryland, he had a weekly talk show where he discussed baseball on WMUC Sports. He was paired with Ezra Ellenberg, a fellow Yankees fan who was just as well-versed as Kim. The show was named “The Dugout Binder” and the two referenced FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus within it. Kim credits Ellenberg as the person who gave him courage to speak of his baseball opinions to the public and Kim now has over 20,000 followers on Twitter.
The “very introverted kid” found his social media presence through socializing with others and getting to know them before graduating high school.
“I kind of kept that energy going throughout college and after,” Kim said. “I think, because of the nature of the activities I was involved in college and post-college, I was bound to have an audience to please. Because I liked interacting with people and what I was doing, it ended up resulting in being able to grow an audience.”
Being able to meet other people brought him deeper within the sports world, freelancing as a photographer for Maryland men’s basketball games for the Testudo Times. Kim credits SB Nation’s Alex Kirshner, former editor-in-chief for Testudo Times, for giving him a chance.
“Sung Min is really nice about shouting out people who have worked with him along the way, but the truth is he’s gotten to where he is by being determined as hell and really smart,” Kirshner said. “I’m just glad to know him.”
Kim eventually dived deeper into baseball — finding a Baseball Prospectus event at a Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington. The then-sophomore couldn’t find anyone else to the attend the event with him, but it allowed Kim to fully immerse himself within the world of baseball. Jay Jaffe was one of the speakers at the event, and Kim originally enjoyed his work. He asked Jaffe a question and had his 2012 Baseball Prospectus signed by him as well.
Kim found a sports writing course with professor George Solomon where one of his assignments was to profile John McDonnell, a longtime sports photographer for The Washington Post.
“I met John at a brunch café nearby the U-Street Metro Station, talked to him for about an hour and wrote an eight-page profile of him,” Kim said. “George liked my work so much that he posted the entire thing up on The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism website. I was floored. That felt like the point where I started to believe that I could have a career in sports writing.”
Kim also wrote two articles for The Washington Post and got connected with current digital sports editor Dan Steinberg. He pitched a story to Steinberg about Reddit co-founder and husband of tennis star Serena Williams Alexis Ohanian’s Washington Redskins fandom during a playoff game in 2016. The other article was about former Terps men’s basketball player Jaylen Brantley’s relation to rapper Jadakiss.
Just as he was beginning to build a name for himself in the industry, his student visa expired. On Aug. 31, 2016, Kim flew back to Korea.
Once again, just as he had to do 12 years before, Kim looked to find himself again. He found that he still had a home in the baseball community. He went to a 24-hour café near his home at early hours in the morning to watch spring training games back in the United States. Once the season began, it was easier to track games with the 7 p.m. Eastern Time games being played at 8 a.m. his time.
“I honestly had no idea what to do when I first came back,” Kim said. “I interned at a university laboratory for a few months to see if I would be cut to pursue graduate school there, but it was not for me. At some point, I decided to just drop everything and just focus on writing baseball. Because I was in Korea, I knew that my opportunity writing for revered American publications would be limited. So, what I did was, I just lived on my laptop and just followed everything that was going on in MLB."
This eventually led to him grabbing attention with his tweets about the KBO and Nippon Professional Baseball (Japan). He freelanced for VICE Sports, Deadspin and other publications and it became the first time that he applied for credentials as a media member for KBO and MLB games as a writer.
Eventually, the young baseball writer got in contact with Emma Span, the hiring manager for The Athletic MLB, and pitched ideas to her. He ended up writing for The Athletic and began a residency in February 2018 with FanGraphs, after connecting with former managing editor Dave Cameron and current editor Meg Rowley. Just one year later, Kim was brought on as a contributor for FanGraphs and specialized in Asian baseball.
Now with his story having a number of new chapters to be written, Kim looks to new goals for himself and the club that he works for. One being to win a Korean Series.
“My goal, first and foremost, is to do my best to help bring the Korean Series title to the Lotte Giants,” Kim stated. “Simply put, I just want to give my best input for everything I am assigned to do. The beauty of it is that not only I’m put into a situation where I can use my skill set to its fullest, but also, I get to learn a lot from these tasks. I really can’t wait for the 2020 KBO season to start.”