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Shin-Soo Choo loves his family and loves baseball, and those two loves can be difficult to balance.
Being at home for much of the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic was a first. He cherished the time with his wife and three children, who have never known him as anything other than a baseball player.
That will end eventually, and sooner than later, but he isn’t ready for it to end just yet.
He’s going home to keep his career going.
Choo signed a one-year, $2.4 million contract with SK Wyverns in the Korea Baseball Organization. He leaves for Incheon, South Korea, on Wednesday morning so that he can complete a required two-week quarantine in time to play in spring games.
The KBO season begins April 3. Choo has never played professionally in Korea, and he’s excited to get going. And maybe keep going.
“I’m ready to go, man,” Choo said Tuesday from his home in Southlake. “I’m not saying this is my last season. Who knows?”
Family and baseball once again fueled his decision.
Choo’s parents have never seen him play in person as a professional. They have only watched him play on television throughout his 16-year career.
He had planned to bring them to Opening Day last season before travel was restricted. He tried again for the season finale, but it wasn’t permitted.
Now, they’re going to live with him.
“I really wanted to bring my family to the U.S. to see me play. That’s my parents’ dream,” said Choo, who is from Busan, South Korea. “I want to play in Korea because I want to play in front of my parents and I want to give back to Korean fans.”
Choo said as many as eight MLB teams reached out to him and offered him more money. Many of the clubs were contenders, while the rest were in the same position as the Rangers and wanted his veteran leadership as much as his bat.
Playing time wasn’t guaranteed.
The Rangers said early in the offseason that they would not be re-signing him
Choo believes his age, 38, kept teams from making him better contract offers. He started to consider playing in Korea after left fielder Kyle Schwarber, who turns 26 next week, signed a one-year, $10 million contract with the Washington Nationals.
Choo, who leaves with a .275 career average and an .824 OPS, said his offers were for considerably less.
He doesn’t need the money after fulfilling his seven-year, $130 million contract with the Rangers. He wants to play for a team that still values what he can do on the field.
“I want to play with somebody who respects my career and respects my talent,” Choo said. “I know I can still play and be a good player. I believe in myself.”
Rangers staff and players were excited to hear that Choo will continue playing, even if they will no longer be his teammate or see him in an opposing uniform.
He left his mark as a keen-eyed leadoff hitter and a wonderful teammate who was also very active in the community. Last year, Choo gave every Rangers minor-league player $1,000 and also donated money to COVID recovery efforts in Korea.
Even though he’s going to Korea to play, he still plans to live permanently in Texas.
“There’s nobody better to look up to,” shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa said. “Everything he does, the way he is a father, a husband, a friend. There’s no better guy to look up to. So I’m glad that he’s back in Korea and he gets to play in front his parents and his family. It’s cool for him.”