You did it! The U25 Challenge

‘Team Korea’, the future made it today… to shine even brighter tomorrow

Ryu Jung-il Ho leads Taiwan to fourth consecutive title
‘Victory’ without league interruption after generation change

South Korea’s baseball team, which won only a bronze medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, turned things around at the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games with a generational change in leadership and performance. Unlike the previous team, which suspended the league and played at the highest level, Team Korea’s new structure and challenges have revealed the future of the sport.

The team, led by Ryu Joong-il, defeated Chinese Taipei 2-0 in the baseball final of the Asian Games on July 7 to win their fourth consecutive gold medal and sixth overall at the Asian Games since Guangzhou in 2010. This time, the process was different. Since Asian Games gold medals are contingent on military immunity, the selection process has always taken that into account. In Guangzhou in 2010, Choo Shin-soo (SSG Rangers), an active major leaguer at the time, competed. Oh Ji-hwan (LG Twins) drew the ire of fans when he deliberately delayed his commercial enlistment to earn a spot on the national team and won a military exemption with a gold medal at the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Games.

The gold medal left a bitter aftertaste, given that their arch-rivals Japan have been sending less-than-elite social baseball players to the Asian Games. South Korea’s reliance on older aces has meant that younger players have had fewer opportunities to develop, and the gap between them and Japan has widened. After finishing runner-up to Japan in the 2019 Premier 12, the team’s disastrous performance at the Tokyo Olympics sparked an outpouring of public opinion.캡틴토토

The Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) subsequently eliminated the league’s pause during the Asian Games and established its own rule that players must be 25 years old or younger or in their fourth year of professional play. The three wildcard spots were also limited to players aged 29 or younger, meaning 15 of the 24 players on the team were wearing the Korean flag for the first time.

After a shaky start with a loss to Chinese Taipei and concerns that they were the underdogs, South Korea went on to defeat Japan, China, and Chinese Taipei in succession to win the gold medal. In addition to game-winning pitcher Moon Dong-ju (Hanwha Eagles), Korea’s next generation of superstars, including Noh Si-hwan (Hanwha), Kim Joo-won (NC Dinos), and Park Young-hyun (KT WIZ), shined. The 19 military exemptions, the most in the tournament’s history, also reflected the significance of the event.

As Ryu said after the tournament, “I saw the future of Korean baseball,” and the results of this tournament are enough to show that Korean baseball has laid the foundation for the development of the game with young blood.

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