Hyun Soo Kim experiences mixed Opening Day after opting to start season with Orioles

Orioles' Hyun Soo Kim runs in from center field after introduction during the pregame ceremony on Opening Day at Camden Yards on April 4, 2016.

The boos were modest but unmistakable, certainly not the reception Hyun Soo Kim had dreamed of when he gave up baseball stardom in his native South Korea to try his hand in the world's best league.

Orioles fans gave their new outfielder a mixed greeting on Opening Day because they knew he was trotting down the traditional orange carpet against the club's will.


The Orioles wanted to send Kim to Triple-A for more seasoning. But he used language in his two-year contract to dictate his place on the major league roster.

Kim, 28, did his best to approach an awkward debut with joy and humility. He called his early impressions of Baltimore and Camden Yards "fantastic." And he said he was deeply excited, if a little nervous, to take the field for a new community of fans.


Asked his goals for early in the season, he said through interpreter Danny Lee: "Stay confident and stay ready anytime the skipper needs me, so I can contribute to the team and make sure I'm cheering the team to keep winning and enjoy every moment with the team."

Words that would likely endear him to Baltimore fans.

But it could not have been the Opening Day one of South Korea's finest players imagined. Though Kim had attracted packs of Korean reporters early in spring training, the scene around his locker before Monday's game was subdued.

He jogged in for a moment to grab his shiny black uniform belt, then re-entered to pull on his orange and black warm-up garb as he answered a few questions through Lee.

At the next locker over, Joey Rickard beamed as he accepted a steady procession of congratulations and interview requests. Rickard surprised everyone by beating out Kim for the starting job in left field. And now his jubilation stood in stark contrast to the disappointment around his clubhouse neighbor.

Korean reporters, on hand to cover Kim's debut, said fans back home are both irritated with the Orioles for giving the left field job to another player and dispirited by Kim's underwhelming performance in spring training.

"Many people are interested in his status because he's from the Korean champion and one of our best hitters," said Korean baseball writer Insik Cho as he watched Kim spray line drives during batting practice. "But they are disappointed, and some are very angry with the Orioles."

He said many fans would still wake up at 4 a.m. Korean time to watch Kim's debut. Asked how upset they'd be if he didn't get in the game, Cho merely laughed.


After batting .326 with 28 home runs for the Doosan Bears last season, Kim hit just .178 during spring training, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter hardly played him in the last week before the club traveled north. The message was clear — Rickard, a far less ballyhooed acquisition, had snatched the left field job out from under Kim.

Kim's tentative adjustment to major league pitching disappointed the Orioles as much as anyone. They had hoped he could be the left-handed table setter the club badly needs.

Kim exercised his contractual right to refuse a Triple-A assignment, essentially forcing the Orioles to keep him on the major league roster rather than eat his $7 million contract with nothing to show for it.

Executive vice president Dan Duquette said it would be up to Showalter to find Kim the playing time he needs to achieve greater comfort with the American game. Or not.

Such situations were more common in the pre-draft era, when clubs were often forced to carry young prospects, known as bonus babies, who had little chance to play regularly.

But as Showalter noted, the Orioles could have faced a similarly awkward situation with pitcher Dylan Bundy if the 23-year-old right-hander had performed poorly in spring training. With Bundy out of minor league options, the Orioles could not have reassigned him without risk of losing the former first-round draft pick. Fortunately for the club, Bundy pitched well enough to make the issue moot.


The Kim situation is different, however, because his contract grants him a degree of control other first-time major leaguers simply do not have. He ran down the orange carpet on Opening Day not because the Orioles wanted him to but because he insisted on it.

Despite the potentially uncomfortable situation, Showalter said he didn't think Opening Day would be overly tense for Kim.

"It might be good in a way that he steps back and is able to take it in a little bit from afar," the Orioles manager said.

But Showalter acknowledged warming the bench would feel unfamiliar to a player who excelled from the time he was a teenager in his home country.

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"Realize, this is more uncharted waters for him," Showalter said. "There's a lot of things happening to him for the first time in his 28 years, so he's getting a lot of support from coaches, management and especially the players. They're all pulling for him. There's a really good vibe around him with his teammates."

Despite the smattering of boos during introductions, fans said they would give Kim the benefit of the doubt.


"He's a heck of a player and he's on the Baltimore Orioles, so that's enough for me," said Lou Persico of Catonsville. "He didn't come out here to make a fool of himself, and he has my respect."

Persico's buddy, Bill Vogelpohl, didn't appreciate the boos aimed at Kim.

"We don't do that here," the Catonsville resident said. "You've got to give him a shot."