On Thursday, March 29 the KIBA (Korean Independent Baseball Association) Dream League (KDL) celebrated the league’s opening day with a double header at Seoul’s Mokdong Baseball Stadium. The day game featured the Seoul Journeyman against Yeoncheon Miracle, while the Paju Challengers took on Uijeongbu Shinhan University in the night game. Both games were televised on IB Sports.
The KIBA Dream League Logos. Left to Right: KDL Logo, Seoul Journeyman, Yeoncheon Miracle, Paju Challengers, Uijeongbu Shinhan University. KDL games are held every Monday with live streams usually found on the team Facebook pages.
Independent baseball in Korea is an opportunity for both younger and older players who didn’t quite make the cut in the KBO or Futures leagues to develop their game and showcase themselves in a bid to make it back into one of the KBO rosters.
There have been several athletes who have succeeded in this endeavour and been picked up from indie-league teams over the past few years. These include players such as right-handed pitcher Hyeon KiHyeong (현기형. His name has since changed to Hyeon DoHoon 현도훈), and left-handed pitcher Kim HoJun (김호준) joining the Doosan Bears organization from the Paju Challengers in 2017, and outfielder Kim WonSeok (김원석) joining the Hanwha Eagles, and right-handed pitcher Kevin Lee joining the Samsung Lions both in 2016 from Yeoncheon Miracle.
The now defunct independent team, the Goyang Wonders also contributed a number of players to the KBO between 2011-2014 under the management of KBO legend, Kim SungGeun (김성근) including notable examples such as former Hiroshima Minor League utility infielder Shin SeongHyeon (신성현) to the Hanwha Eagles in 2015, and infielders Kim JiSung (김지성) and HwangMok ChiSeung (황목치승) to the LG Twins in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
Shin SeongHyeon blasts a grand slam to center against Samsung Lions in Daegu Citizens Field on June 10, 2015. In the 2017 season he was traded to the Doosan Bears for catcher Choi JaeHun (최재훈). Original Broadcast by MBC Sports+.
HwangMok ChiSeung avoids a tag to score the tying run on the last out against the Nexen Heroes on July 26, 2017 in Jamsil. The Twins would go on to load the bases and win the game with a walk off walk. He retired from professional baseball in October 2017 to take over his father-in-law’s family business in Japan. Original Broadcast by SBS Sports.
On Thursday in Mokdong, two new faces emerged to test the waters of Korean independent baseball as part of the Seoul Journeyman roster; former St Louis Cardinals AA pitcher Ramon Ulacio, and NY Yankees AA shortstop Francisco Rosario. Despite good late movement from his slider and cutter, Ramon Ulacio struggled with his fastball location and gave up 2 hits and 2 walks in the fourth inning. He left the game having given up 3 runs in 1.1 innings. In a post-game interview he said that he is working on better location and trying to stay on top of his pitches for future games. In his second outing against Uijeongbu Shinhan University on April 2, 2018 he did just that and threw 2 scoreless innings giving up just one walk and striking out 3 hitters.
In contrast, Francisco Rosario enjoyed a good game that saw him draw 2 walks and a single across five plate appearances. He was also defensively sound and showed good game-sense by catching a Jang SiHa (장시하) line drive and beating the runner back to first for a double play in the 9th inning. When asked about his performance he credited a patient plate approach and trying to wait on good pitches. He also mentioned ongoing work with the Journeyman coaching staff on driving the ball through the middle to establish more solid contact and develop his power.
The Yeoncheon Miracle would go on to win the first game of the day on the back of a strong outing by former LG Twins and KIA Tigers right-hander Shin ChangHo (신창호, Above. Photo from Osen) Shin threw 101 pitches across 6.1 scoreless innings, giving up 4 hits and 3 walks.
The second game between Uijeongbu Shinhan University and Paju Challengers saw a lot of strong hitting, and some pretty poor defense that probably warranted more errors than the three that were credited between the two teams. Despite that the two teams put on an entertaining game with Uijeongbu coming out on top after shelling Paju’s starting pitcher, Choi YeongWoong (최영웅) for 7 runs with 10 hits and a walk across 4.1 innings.
Paju responded well to the early deficit with Yun SanHeum (윤산흠) pitching 3 scoreless relief innings (1 hit, 1 walk, and 1 hit by pitch), and their hitters putting up a 4-spot in the third inning against Shinhan’s starter, Woo ByeongGeol (우병걸).
KIBA and the four teams prepare for the KDL opening ceremony. The opening ceremony included a performance by K-pop group, Blah Blah, and a ceremonial first hit by all of the organizing members, coaches and volunteers off of tees.
The second KIBA affiliated indie league in Korea, the Gyeonggi-do Challenge Baseball League (GCBL) has also started and features the Goyang Winners, Yangju Revolution, Seongnam Blue Pandas, and Suwon Robots. A fifth team, the Yongin Stealth are scheduled to hold open tryouts on April 10, 2018 at Songdo LNG stadium and will likely join the GCBL this season if they are successful in recruiting a full roster. They will be managed by Lee KwangKwon (이광권). Lee was a pitcher for the MBC Blue Dragons in the early 80’s and worked as a pitching coach for the Hanwha Eagles, and as a baseball commentator for SBS, Sky Sports, and JTBC after his retirement.
The GCBL team logos. From left to right: Goyang Winners, Yangju Revolution, Seongnam Blue Pandas, Suwon Robots, Yongin Stealth logo not yet confirmed.