Hochul Seo takes us behind the scenes of the NC Dinosaurs, the “dinosaur army” that has been impressive in fall baseball this season.
This year, NC had a more meaningful time than most. The team was considered a “last place favorite” before the start of the season due to the departure of key players such as Yang Yang-ji (Doosan Bears), Noh Jin-hyuk (Lotte Giants), and Won Jong-hyun (Kiwoom Heroes), but they managed to punch their ticket to fall baseball in fourth place with 75 wins, 2 ties, and 67 losses. It was a result of the leadership of head coach Kang In-hwa, the presence of Son As-seob, Park Min-woo, and Park Gun-woo, who showed the quality of a veteran, and the growth of young players.
In the fall, NC became even stronger. They didn’t lose a single game until the wild card deciding game (best-of-2), the semi-playoffs (best-of-5), and the second round of the playoffs (best-of-3) against Doosan, SSG Landers, and KT Wiz, respectively.굿모닝토토
With this, NC’s six-game winning streak in fall baseball this year and nine-game winning streak in the postseason, including Game 4 of the 2020 Korean Series, tied the record for the longest winning streak in fall baseball, which was previously held by the 1987-1988 Hattae Tigers over two seasons.
On the 23rd, when NC’s CAMP 1 (final training) was in full swing, infielder Seo Ho-cheol of the Changwon NC Park said, “The team atmosphere was very good. We didn’t feel like we were going to lose. I felt more comfortable because we were in a chasing situation.” “All the teammates were so good, and the dugout atmosphere was good. It made me realize that I want to create that kind of atmosphere when I’m a senior,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
“The reason why our younger players were able to do better technically was because we had good seniors like Son Asub, Park Min-woo, and Park Gun-woo. They made it possible for the juniors to play baseball without being judged on the field. They taught me a lot about baseball, but when it came to playing, they told me not to worry about it and just do it.” “It was a similar atmosphere with manager (Kang In-hwon) and the coaches. It seems like a good system came down from the top.”
Seo’s performance was also a key to NC’s fall baseball success, as he went 4-for-3 with a double, a home run, and six RBIs, including a grand slam in the bottom of the fourth inning in the wild-card game to lead NC to a 14-9 victory. It was the first time the home run came in a wild-card game, and the six RBIs were a new record for most RBIs in a wild-card game.
“I hurt my ankle (before the season ended). I went down to the second team and took about 10 days off, and it didn’t feel good. It was an important moment for the team (to compete for third place). It was hard for me to not be able to contribute to the team,” he said. “I thought that if I healed well and the team went to fall baseball, I would contribute. It was my choice, even if I was sick, and I didn’t know when this opportunity would come, so I thought I could have a good experience,” he said.
He continued, “I was pretty exhausted, and I was getting treatment, so I had to build up my stamina. I didn’t know if I was going to make the (postseason) roster or not, but if I did, I wanted to use that strength to contribute 120 percent when other players were tired. I thought I was going to be down sensory-wise, but after two games in the second team, it wasn’t too bad. (The seniors, including Son) said, ‘From the sky, the game is already decided. Let’s have fun and enjoy it. “I think it was probably the most memorable moment in my baseball career. I’ve never hit a grand slam before, and I’ve never had so many RBIs. I’ve also been a daily MVP. I think it was one of those memorable days,” Bashish laughed.
However, NC’s good momentum came to an end in Game 3 of the playoffs. The team fought a postseason-like battle for third place at the end of the regular season, and the main reason was that the players’ physical strength was depleted due to the nonstop schedule in fall baseball. Pitchers were making more and more mistakes, and the batters’ well-hit balls were coming up one end short and getting caught in the opposing outfielder’s glove.
Seo Ho-cheol said, “I felt fine, but others said I looked tired. Even when I hit the opponent’s pitch at a good time, it was a little late, and my body reaction was late. My brothers also told me that they were physically tired.” “We are tired now, but I thought we were fighting with our mental strength. During the season, all the players were tired and sick, but I think they didn’t want to lose, and that’s what motivated me.”
NC went on to lose three straight games, including the third game of the playoffs, and eventually had to give up their ticket to the Korean Series to KT. After Game 5, the NC players’ locker room became a sea of tears.
“Everyone was so disappointed,” says Seo Ho-cheol. We were huddled together and crying. I cried too. The front desk staff was also crying. I think we were all teary-eyed because we were disappointed, but also because we thought we had struggled for a year.” “Coach (Kang In-jung) also seemed to get emotional when he saw the players crying. He left with reddened eyes.”
Although the team didn’t win the championship, NC’s campaign touched many people’s hearts. The NC players also gained valuable experience.
Seo Ho-cheol said, “I still can’t forget it. The next time we play fall baseball, we’ll be able to go even higher,” said Seo. “We’ll be more confident because we have experience. I’ll be more confident because I’ve been there, and I’m sure I’ll get better results and better looks.”
“I felt like I had to take care of my body this postseason, and people around me told me that I had to take care of it, but I didn’t really understand it at first. Now I definitely understand it. I’m still thinking about how to improve my fitness.”
Seo, who was drafted by NC with the 87th overall pick in the second round in 2019, has hit .257 (600-for-154) with seven home runs and 55 RBIs in 205 games so far this year. This season, however, he has really come into his own, batting .287 (397-for-114) with five home runs and 41 RBIs in 114 games. It was an accomplishment that was made all the more valuable by the fact that he battled through two headshot injuries. With such a clear step up, what are Seo’s goals for the 2024 season?
“The first thing is to stay injury-free. I want to show the fans something a little better and better than this year, and I want to put the team in a higher position. I need to get my body back to 100 percent quickly and go to spring training,” he said, and took to the field again for training.