Pirates' Wilk thrown a curve in South Korea
DUNEDIN, Fla. — The sales pitch Adam Wilk received a year ago from a South Korean baseball team seemed almost too good to be true.
As things turned out, it was.
Wilk left the Detroit Tigers organization in February 2012 to spend a season pitching for the NC Dinos of the Korean Professional Baseball League. He hoped the move would help him latch on with another MLB club.
This spring, Wilk is in camp with the Pirates on a minor league contract. But the left-hander said his time in Korea did nothing to boost his career.
“It was an experience, to say the least,” Wilk said. “For me, it wasn't a good experience. A lot of (the team's) promises were very deceitful, an attempt to get us to sign.”
There were 17 foreign players — guys from the United States and Latin America — in the KPBL last season. Wilk, 26, was one of three American pitchers with the NC Dinos.
The Dinos are based in Changwon, an industrial city on South Korea's southeastern coast. The North Korean border is about 400 miles away, and tensions between the countries always are high.
“It was nerve-racking,” Wilk said. “I had a ‘to-go bag' ready to go in case I needed to ditch the country and escape on a boat to Japan. I tried my best not to think about it because I didn't want to be worried.”
Wilk said team officials told the Americans they would live in upscale apartments in the Jungang-Dong district, which has plenty of shops and restaurants that cater to foreigners. Instead, Wilk said he was housed in an area several miles away.
“No parks, no restaurants, no anything,” Wilk said. “There was nothing to do. We found out later that the apartments in (Jungang-Dong) were significantly more expensive and the team wanted to cut costs.”
The Americans' arrival led to friction in the clubhouse. Wilk said his coaches and teammates were upset he wanted to stick with his usual training routine instead of the Korean system, which involves a lot of sprints and practically no weightlifting. There also is a sort of caste system based on age.
“If I'm 35 (years old) and the guy next to me is 34 and I can tell him to get me a bottle of water, he's got to do it or I could hit him,” Wilk said. “A lot of the young guys enjoyed hanging around with us because we wouldn't make them do stuff even though we were older.”
The fields are smaller than MLB ballyards. Masan Stadium, the Dinos' home field, has a capacity of 16,000 and is 380 feet to center field. The baseballs are not rubbed up before a game. Pitchers get them straight out of the package, shiny white and slick.
“It's a different style of baseball,” Wilk said. “Not a lot of power hitters there. Guys just want to put the ball in play, singles hitters. They're taking two-strike swings from the first pitch of the game.”
The relationship between Wilk and the Dinos' manager was uneasy from the start and only got worse. In August, six months after arriving, Wilk left South Korea. He pitched in 17 games and went 4-8 with a 4.12 ERA.
“The manager didn't want me anymore,” Wilk said. “They sent me home early, then lied to the media about it. They said I had an arm injury.”
After Wilk returned to the United States, his agent let MLB teams know Wilk was healthy and eager to play for an American team. He signed with the Pirates in January and got a non-roster invite to spring training.
Wilk said his brief stint in South Korea wasn't all bad.
“It definitely taught me that, however many problems the United States has, we still are the best country in the world,” he said. “It helped me as a pitcher. It's a different style of baseball over there, and I had to learn how to be successful. I did learn a lot.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- About face: Pirates’ Burnett now digging the shifts
- Pirates notebook: Worley bounces back after rough start
- Spring training breakdown: Braves 7, Pirates 5
- Hair Cutch: Pirates superstar lops off his locks for charity
- Pirates’ Harrison working to use 2014 success as building block
- Forbes: Pirates worth $900 million
- Pirates notebook: RV is home to pitcher Lincoln for spring training
- Baseball awaits chance to fully delve into Cuba’s talent pool
- Spring training breakdown: Pirates 2, Red Sox 2
- Pirates notebook: Morton’s struggles continue during rough outing versus Astros
- Fresh Polanco hopes to speed up hands, get better results this season