South Korea team built to frustrate defenses

Minwook Park readied himself on the third-base bag. Just in case Venezuela’s Brando Fernandez made an incredible catch in foul territory, he wanted to be prepared to race home.

Fernandez sprawled out over the cinder warning track in front of the scorer’s table on the third-base foul line. He snared the baseball out of the air as he crashed to the ground. Park took off.

South Korea’s shortstop was 60 feet from home plate when he started to run. Fernandez was probably only about half that distance from the plate. He got to his feet and threw a strike to Venezuela Hendrik Maestre. Park slid, kicking up the clay around the plate and gliding underneath Maestre’s tag.

Plate umpire Brian Rounds casually signaled safe as he trotted toward the plate. Minutes later, after checking the video review, Rounds walked to the plate and made the same safe signal. Park’s run toward the plate may have seemed a tad on the reckless side. But that’s how this South Korean team is built.

They want to use their speed. They want to put pressure on defenses. And they want to force mistakes.

“That’s how we play baseball,” said South Korea manager Minho Lee, as if that was already pretty evident. “We are built on speed. We have to play small ball because we don’t have big power hitters.”

This is not your younger brother’s South Korea team. This is not the teams from Seoul which have taken root in South Williamsport in recent years and mashed their way to International and World Series championships.

This is a team built to frustrate defenses full of 12-year-olds. Take a second to blink, and they’re taking an extra base. Take an extra crowhop, and they’re stretching a single into a double. Or heaven forbid you dive to the ground for what will be undoubtedly be one of the best catches of this series, because South Korea is going to turn it into a 25-foot sacrifice fly.

This could be the wave of the Little League future. With Little League having mandated less lively bats in recent years and having removed 13 year olds from the division, gone are the hulking masses of adolescence who hit home runs with more regularity than Gleyber Torres at Camden Yards.

“They’re used to it,” Lee said of his players. “This is how we play baseball in South Korea, so this is how we’re going to play baseball here.”

You just collectively heard seven other International field teams say, “oh goody.”

Instead of being bludgeoned to death from the batter’s box, teams can expect to die the slow death of a 1,000 paper cuts rendered over six innings. It’s the merry-go-round-on-ludicrous speed offense.

Once again, “oh goody.”

It’s not that Venezuela wasn’t expecting South Korea to play that way. It’s exactly what manager Luis Gonzalez prepared for. It just didn’t particularly matter.

South Korea was so set on taking extra bases when it could, that at one point when Maestre walked to the mound to confer with his pitcher, a South Korea runner tried to break for the plate and score a run. As he reached home, the umpire informed him time had been called and he had to go back to third.

No harm, no foul, I guess.

“It was no surprise,” Gonzalez said. “But I think we hesitated at times and that ended up costing us.”

Let that be a lesson moving forward for the rest of the bracket. Don’t hesitate. Don’t make mistakes. Don’t blink. Deep breaths aren’t particularly advised either.

Other than that, you’ll be fine.

Good luck.