06/19/2009 1:50 PM ET
Park: Journey has been rewarding
Korean righty reflects on groundbreaking career
When I made my Major League debut in 1994, I was the first player from Korea to play in the big leagues. The transition was a difficult one, but I'm proud of the career I've had in the United States.
I was born in Kong Ju City, South Korea, and I started playing baseball when I was 10 years old. They really don't have an organization like Little League there. Back then, I played on my school team, which is where most of the kids play. That's the more popular form of organized baseball in Korea.
Soccer and baseball are the two big sports in my country, but I think baseball has the edge in popularity. We have a great national team in baseball and they did very well in the World Baseball Classic this year. But soccer fields are popping up everywhere in Korea now, too.
When I came to North America and broke in with the Dodgers, nobody from my country had played here before. Since then, there have been about seven or eight Koreans who have played, and there are a handful of guys now in the Minor Leagues.
Making the transition from my home country to living here in the States, however, was a difficult one. I really didn't know anything about the language, the culture or even the basic living of day-to-day life.
Signing with the Dodgers was easily one of the best decisions I ever made because of the large Korean population in Los Angeles. I was close to the Koreatown community in L.A., and that was a huge help to me. It felt like home there.
I think I finally got comfortable here in the U.S. after I spent some time in the Minor Leagues and made my way back to the big leagues. It helped a lot with the language and the culture. In that atmosphere, I had more time to meet people, get used to the food and just experience life here.
I also learned more about how Major League Baseball works from the clubhouse to the front office during that period. It was a matter of time and being able to adjust to things you don't understand.
Something else that took time to get used to was peoples' perceptions about my home country. A lot of the people I met while playing ball here weren't even sure where Korea was. That was especially true when I was in the Minor Leagues.
When I first came over here, Asian food wasn't as popular as it is now, so I got a lot of strange looks when I would eat food I was accustomed to. I think that exemplified that a lot of people didn't know much about Korea or Korean culture.
Now, the guys are great and now with a greater infusion of players from around the world, it feels normal. They understand my culture better. I think they respect Asian baseball and culture more. They also see that we can play the game just as well as they can.
In all, I got a lot of help from my teammates in adjusting to life here. There were a lot of great people who helped me out when I was new, and I will always appreciate that.
Chan Ho Park, who first joined the Dodgers as a 21-year-old in 1994, has a 120-93 record with a 4.39 ERA over more than 15 seasons in the Major Leagues. He's 3-1 with a 6.14 ERA with the Phillies this season.