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Having an open mind and having fun: How Casey Kelly fell in love with baseball again in KBO
February 14, 2021 | Yonhap News Abency
American pitcher Casey Kelly signed with the South Korean club LG Twins in November 2018, after bouncing between five major league organizations over the past decade.
The change of scenery has done wonders for the 31-year-old. For one, Kelly has been one of the top starters in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) over the past two years. On top of that, Kelly's passion for baseball has been reignited here.
"For me, coming over here has made me fall in love with baseball again," Kelly told reporters on Tuesday at LG Champions Park in Icheon, the Twins' spring training site located some 80 kilometers south of Seoul.
The secret to that?
"Just having an open mind and having fun," Kelly said.
It's easy to have fun when you're pitching as well as Kelly has across the 2019 and 2020 seasons, though it could also be argued that he has been pitching so well because he's been having fun.
Over those two years, Kelly has recorded the most wins with 29 and most quality starts -- outings with at least six innings pitched and no more than three earned runs allowed -- with 44. In the same span, Kelly is second overall with a 2.93 ERA and 353 2/3 innings pitched, and is third with 260 strikeouts. He also ranks second in walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP) with 1.15.
Opposing hitters have had an on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) of .649 against Kelly, the third-lowest in the 2019-2020 stretch.
When Kelly spoke about having an open mind and finding joy in the game, it was in response to a question on how he would help Andrew Suarez, his former San Francisco Giants teammate and new LG Twins teammate, get settled in the KBO. And Kelly, currently the longest-tenured foreign player for the Twins entering his third season, was more than qualified to offer advice.
"I think the biggest thing is really try to embrace the culture and have an open mind," Kelly said. "The guys that come over here, (if) they think it's going to be like the States, it's hard for them to adapt."
Case in point: Kelly has made it his personal routine to greet every one of his teammates with a bow, the most Korean style imaginable. But there's one twist.
"Older guys get a little bit further bow than younger guys," Kelly said with a laugh.
When asked if Suarez, three years Kelly's junior, should bow to him, Kelly cracked, "Yeah, I should make him do that."
The former high school quarterback and minor league shortstop said he isn't just there to help his American teammate. He's all ears for his young Korean teammates, too, with the help of the team interpreter.
"At first, younger guys were a little shy. But (now) they know they can ask me any question they have about pitching or baseball," Kelly said. "I am pretty easy to talk to. Once they get to know me then, it's pretty much teammate to teammate."