Veteran KBO shortstop enjoys being pushed by younger teammates

SEOUL-- For over 10 years, LG Twins' shortstop Oh Ji-hwan hasn't had to worry about his job security. As he developed into one of the top defensive shortstops in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), Oh has always had the everyday role locked down.

The situation isn't about to change this year for Oh, the club's newly minted captain. But more so than in recent years, Oh is feeling the pressure from younger teammates trying to push him from the perch.

And he doesn't mind it one bit.

"I think we have great depth among position players, and there's healthy tension in the clubhouse," Oh said Thursday before a preseason game against the Doosan Bears at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul. "I could tell veterans don't want to give up their job so easily and younger guys want to keep fighting for their playing opportunities. I think it's good for the team."

The 32-year-old said it has led to a slight change to his mindset too.

"I used to think, 'I am a regular here. I just have to do my own things, and I'll be fine,'" Oh said. "But now, if I miss time with injuries, then I feel like someone is going to step in to take the job, and the team won't miss a beat."

One potential heir to the throne is Song Chan-eui, who has set the preseason on fire with his ridiculous 1.136 slugging percentage while playing in every infield position and corner outfield positions this month.

The 23-year-old rookie played mostly shortstop in high school, and he has said he feels most comfortable at shortstop or second base. His fielding and throwing arm remain a bit suspect, but the bat will certainly play, even if he doesn't match the current level of production. In 22 at-bats, Song has eight hits -- five home runs and one triple.

"I've been telling him to keep doing his thing and not get hurt," Oh said, when asked if he'd given Song any advice. "I don't want to put too much pressure on him, and so I try not to discuss anything technical with him."

Oh knows a thing or two about trying to avoid injuries. He missed the final portion of the last regular season, and also the Twins' brief postseason run, with a broken collarbone, suffered while attempting a diving grab.

Oh said he is back to 100 percent, and he has also cleared mental hurdles too. He took an awkward fall during a recent preseason game but was pleasantly surprised to notice that he didn't have any pain afterward.

"I think it was a good thing that I fell at that moment, because I got it out of the way early," Oh said. "I am playing with a bit more caution but at the same time, when I need to be aggressive to make plays, I have to be just that. If I am caught somewhere in between, I could get hurt again."

Source: Yonhap News Agency