'Duk

The Korean army could soon come calling for Shin-Soo Choo

Big League Stew

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We've known for awhile now that Indians outfielder Shin-Soo Choo(notes) might eventually have to return home to serve two years in the South Korean military before he turns 30.

But while that fact comes as no surprise, Choo's country-required commitment is again an early storyline in Cleveland's camp.

It's not hard to see why:

1. Because he'll turn 28 during the season, Choo is another year closer to being fitted for a military uniform in what could be the prime of his career — the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

2. Choo had a breakout season in 2009 with 20 homers and an .883 OPS and he's one of the Indians' few bright spots headed into the 2010 season. (And Tribe fans thought they only had to worry about losing their lefty Cy Young winners to powers from the East.)

Over on MLB.com, Anthony Castrovince provides a good overview of Choo's situation and points out that Choo could get an exemption if the Indians let him play for Korea in the 2010 Asian Games and his country wins the gold medal this November.

Still, that's far from a certain ticket and Choo may need a backup plan, Castrovince writes:

"But what if Choo doesn't get that clearance (from the Indians) or the Korean team doesn't win the gold?

"Well, in that case, he would have to go to his backup plan. He's not divulging what that would be, because he knows people back home are hanging on his every word.

"It could be that Choo would pursue citizenship in the United States. Perhaps more likely is the possibility that he would simply not return to his native land and avoid the obligation."

As a well-traveled commenter on Hardball Talk points out, Choo's decision is being closely followed in his homeland and whatever decision he makes will be closely scrutinized. I can't imagine the weight and pressure that he must be feeling over the whole process.

Also, I can't help but think that the Korean government sure picked a fine time to get fussy over how it hands out exemptions for baseball achievements. After the 2006 World Baseball Classic, the national team received a free pass after reaching the semifinals.

But Choo wasn't on that team and the same offer wasn't extended after the Korean team fell just short in a great final game to Japan in the 2009 WBC. Choo hit big homers in both the semifinal win over Venezuela and the final against rival Japan.

And yet he gets nothing but more worry as the deadline to fulfill his commitment arrives at the same time his career is finally starting to take off after a life time of work. It's the type of story, really, that makes you glad we live in a country that operates a military serviced by brave volunteers.

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