The long balls? Those are perfectly welcome here. But his bat flips? Well, it sounds like they won't be making it through customs.
Park has a big, powerful bat that hit 53 homers last season in the Korea Baseball Organization, where pitching isn't as dominant as MLB. Still, Park's power along with a .343 batting average and 146 RBIs were enticing to more than a few MLB clubs. The Twins had the top bid on Park, so they'll pay $12.85 million to his Korean club, the Nexen Heroes, and then pay Park whatever salary the two sides agree upon in the next 30 days.
Anybody familiar with Park's body of work knows two things: He has the ability to hit homers and he's been known to unleash a bat flip when that happens.
Don't expect to see these types of bat flips from Park anymore. It's been reported that he gave up bat flips as he prepared for MLB. Since he's most likely headed to Minnesota, that would especially be a good idea, since the Twins don't really play that. Well, at least when they're on the losing side of the bat flip. (Oddly enough, some peoples' opinions on bat flips change when their team is doing the flipping, imagine that).
The bat flip is a pretty contentious part of modern baseball, especially in MLB where tradition is often at odds with the game's growing global influences. Bat flippers like Yasiel Puig, Jose Bautista and Carlos Gomez are often tsk-tsk'd for not "respecting the game" when they're really just playing with a flair that's more common in other countries. Having a global purview isn't among the unwritten rules, apparently.
Park, to his credit, is at least smart enough to recognize that his transition to U.S. baseball would be smoother without the type of celebration that is much more common in Korea. Heck, there are daily bat flip compilation videos made from Korean baseball games. That's how common they are.
In a New York Times story from September, Andrew Keh wrote about the different views of bat flips in Korea and America, and specifically how Park adjusted his homer celebrations after advice from an American pitcher:
Some Korean players are mindful of American baseball etiquette when necessary. Park Byung-ho, 29, a star first baseman for the Nexen Heroes and the Korean player most coveted by American teams, was as recently as last season one of the K.B.O.'s most entertaining bat flippers.
But this season, he began gently dropping his bat after home runs. Brandon Knight, who pitched for Nexen from 2011 to 2014, said he and others advised Park that if he moved to the United States, American players would not appreciate the flips. Park, who refers to Knight as B.F., as in best friend, took the advice to heart.
"Sometimes he’d hit a huge home run and do it and then come back to the dugout, look at me and say, ‘Sorry, B.F.,’ ” Knight said.
Here, via Korean baseball authority Dan from MyKBO.net, is what Park homers looked like more recently.
— Dan (@MyKBO) November 9, 2015
Not quite as fun, right? But that's cultural assimilation for you. (And, we suppose, the prospect of getting paid millions for that cultural assimilation is a strong motive.)
It's a fitting coincidence that Bautista, who became the most famous bat-flipper in baseball after his ALDS go-ahead homer and epic celebration, published a piece Monday for The Player's Tribune about bat flips.
He spoke about getting caught up in the moment, how the bat flip isn't meant to be disrespectful and how, in the case of players from Latin America, bat flips are often an extension of the way baseball is watched there. The fans cheer and dance from the first inning to the ninth and players feed off that energy.
It's a far less conservative approach to the game than what we see here in MLB. And it's something, at least from Bautista's eyes, that should be more accepted in the U.S. From Bautista's piece:
"[T]here’s a small section of old-school, my-way-or-the-highway type of people who never want the game to evolve. They’re the dinosaurs who believe that everybody should play the same and act the same. They usually claim that it is out of 'respect.' In my opinion, true respect is about embracing the differences in people’s cultures. That’s what the melting pot of America is all about."
Indeed it is, at least in theory. But in 2015, whether we're talking about the bats we flip, the foods we eat or the languages we speak, there's always going to be someone in America telling an immigrant they need to behave a certain way rather than first trying to understand that person's culture.
That's not a baseball problem. It's an everyday-life problem. But baseball — and on a micro level, the arrival of Byung-ho Park — makes for a fascinating lens.
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