He was a batting champion in 2008.
And in 2015 he was part of a championship team while hitting .326 with 28 home runs.
Of course, all of these noteworthy achievements were registered while he was an outfielder for the Doosan Bears of the Korean Baseball Organization.
Today he is a part-time outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles.
Hyun Soo Kim plays the game of baseball with the joy of a little leaguer, and his infectious spirit – despite language barriers – obviously rubs off on his teammates.
But his start as a major leaguer was anything but joyful.
He signed a relatively modest two-year, $7 million deal with the Orioles in December but by March the contract seemed excessive for a player who looked overpowered, overwhelmed and lost during spring training.
Buck Showalter sent Kim to the plate just 44 times this spring where he registered an anemic .178 batting average.
The criticisms flew.
What were the Orioles thinking?
Who scouted this guy?
The Orioles should send both Kim and the scout who apparently needs a seeing-eye dog packing.
Send him to Norfolk to start the season and if Kim refuses, just eat the $7 million and cut your losses Mr. Dan Duquette.
But Kim held all the leverage.
His contract gave him the right to refuse a minor league assignment. His pride and pride of a country he represented here in the United States prevented him from taking the path of least resistance. He dug in his heels and would accept nothing less than a spot on the 25-man roster or his walking papers and a $7 million check.
The Orioles tried to reason with Kim and thought they could. Perhaps Kim was influenced by fellow Korean Jung Ho Kang of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who fought through a 1-for-24 drought to start the 2015 season. Kang persevered and ended the season as second runner up for the National League Rookie of the Year.
Kim would not relent and would not have his determination derailed.
Meanwhile, Rule V outfielder Joey Rickard was the Orioles’ breakout Grapefruit League player. He quickly became a cult hero of sorts, another underdog who was on the verge of success and exactly the kind of player that Baltimoreans embrace.
Add it up and the pressure on Kim was immense.
The perception of the 28-year old Korean was anything but good.
Here he was, a struggling player who appeared to be less than big league material, refusing to accept an assignment to Norfolk for the benefit of the team, giving the impression that he was stealing the team’s money, refusing to budge.
On Opening Day he was introduced to a sellout crowd at Camden Yards – a day when hope springs eternal and a day in Baltimore when happiness abounds in way that is on par with the greatest of holidays.
Despite it all, Kim was resoundingly booed by his new hometown crowd.
Nice welcoming, right?
Try and put yourself in Kim’s shoes for a moment.
Imagine yourself as an alien who can’t speak a lick of English, cast as the villain on an otherwise celebratory afternoon, trotting down that orange runway unfurled on foreign soil and through a cascade of boos in a town that was supposed to welcome you as one of their own.
It could have crushed Kim’s spirit, but he refused to allow it.
Instead, he battled through the adversity, didn’t allow his self-confidence to shatter and now sports a .339 batting average, a .431 on base percentage and a .888 OPS. Consequently, judging from the responses of his teammates and despite the massive language barriers, Kim has won their affection and acceptance in the dugout.
And in doing so, Kim has worked his way into the hearts of a community that just a couple of months ago wanted to chip in for a one way ticket to Seoul and send him back to the Doosan Bears.
Who knows what the rest of Kim’s story will reveal? But for the time being what Kim has revealed is tremendous character. He fought through the adversity and regardless of the outcome he’s taught us all a lesson – particularly those like me who suggested that the Orioles just cut their losses.
Thank you Hyun Soo Kim.
당신에게 현 SOO 김 감사
Welcome to Baltimore.
볼티모어 에 오신 것을 환영합니다
*Ed. Note: An earlier version of this article said that Jung Ho Kang was the 2015 NL Rookie of the Year. We apologize for the error.