May 10, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Kang (27) celebrates after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park. The Pirates won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
"Kang is adjusting slowly to American culture. It’s a challenge merely going grocery shopping or buying gas. Put yourself in his place for a second. Imagine being dropped off in Seoul, South Korea, tomorrow. How long would it take you to feel as if you belonged?"
With one simple analogy, Cook summarizes the difficulty Kang has had in acclimating himself to our city, our team, and our country. Shaking off a rocky start, Kang seems to be acquitting himself very well with his teammates as of late, as evidenced by Gregory Polanco greeting Kang with a deferential bow after his first-inning bomb. Hitting with runners in scoring position would help anyone be accepted, and Kang is doing just that, slashing .333/.357/.500 on the year in that regard.
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Can Jung ho Kang’s success be largely attribute to something as seemingly trivial as his teammates’ attitude towards him, or his continuing comfort in a new environment? Unfortunately, until FanGraphs or other Sabermetric gurus can come up with a “Comfort %” or similar stat, it will be hard to judge. But it doesn’t take a baseball mind to know that it is absolutely a factor, and for Pittsburgh Pirates fans, it’s great to see the night and day difference in Kang’s on-field and in-dugout demeanor between his early appearances and his current hot streak.
Everything is not lollipops and rainbows in Kangland. He still needs to draw walks (only four in 2015), and his slash as a sub rather than a starter drops off of a proverbial cliff, all the way to .111/.200/.111. That becomes especially important, if Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison show signs of coming out of their season-long funks and finding playing time to Kang becomes more of a challenge.
Considering all of the hand-wringing from fans, front office, coaches, and teammates alike that has gone on since his signing, it is great to see Jung ho Kang start to show why many considered his signing to be a major coup for Neal Huntington. The cliche “only time will tell” is a cliche for a reason, and that cliche applies heavily here.
Enjoy the ride, Pirates fans.