South Korea’s Choo makes MLB All-Star debut at age 36

Choo Shin-soo has played for the Texas Rangers since 2014. (AFP pic)

ARLINGTON: South Korean outfielder Choo Shin-soo will realize his dream to play among the world’s greatest players in Tuesday’s 89th Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

Four days after his 36th birthday, and in his 14th major league campaign since coming to the United States from his homeland, the Texas Rangers standout will become the first South Korean non-pitcher in the mid-season classic as a member of the American League roster.

“You think about the best players from 30 teams and if I’m selected an All-Star, it’s the baseball gods’ gift,” Choo said.

“I’m very honored for my country, myself, and my family. When I was growing up in Korea I thought about playing all my life. My goal was to play one game with the best players in the world.”

“I just took every little step to get there, just play well every single day, respect baseball, and give my best for every game.”

Choo enters the All-Star contest with a 51-game on-base streak, the longest in the major leagues since Boston’s Kevin Millar in 2007.

It puts Choo among only 50 other players having achieved such a feat since the statistic was first kept in 1908.

Among the legends he joins are Joe DiMaggio, Ty Cobb, Barry Bonds, and Ted Williams, who owns the major league record on-base streak of 84 games set in 1949.

“To see him do what he’s done this first half at his age and really help that ball club keep going, I’m excited to see him, and nothing but respect for him,” said Japan-born Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who will guide the National League All-Stars.

“About Choo, it’s bigger than all of us. What Major League Baseball has done, not only domestically but worldwide, is a great job in trying to make it not only our nation’s sport but a worldwide sport.”

Choo downplays any notion of being a national hero, saying, “I think that’s too much. My career is still going. I want to be a champion.”

But Choo likes the idea of inspiring a South Korean child who might play in the All-Star Game 25 years from now.

“That would be great,” Choo said. “I would really like that.”

Choo has a .279 career batting average with 687 runs batted in over 14 seasons with 186 home runs, having passed Japan’s Hideki Matsui in May for the most major league homers for an Asian-born player.

“I’ve played longer than Hideki Matsui so I can hit more homers,” Choo said. “It’s not really a big deal for me.”

Choo recalled his joy at being congratulated by his Texas teammates about his All-Star selection and the excitement of his wife when she heard the news.

“It was a special night. My wife, she was crying. She was very happy,” Choo said. “A lot of people sent me texts saying, ‘Congratulations. You deserve it.'”

In 2015, Choo became the first Asian player in Major League Baseball history to hit for the cycle by delivering a single, double, triple and homer in the same game.

Choo said the toughest part of his journey was learning the English language.

“It takes a long time to do that,” Choo said. “I spent a lot of time on it.”