Release → FA re-entry → accompanying KIA…Ko Jongwook, “You have to be happy when playing baseball.”

Release → FA re-entry → accompanying KIA…Ko Jongwook, “You have to be happy when playing baseball.”

He exercised his free agency rights 13 years after joining a professional team. Ko Jong-wook, 34, chose romance over money.

Outfielder Ko Jong-wook, who exercised his free agency rights after the 2023 season, signed a two-year, 500 million won ($100 million down payment, $150 million annual salary, and $100 million option) contract with the KIA Tigers on Nov. 21.굿모닝토토

The day before, infielder Ahn Chi-hong signed with the Hanwha Eagles for 7.2 billion won (up to six years), and closer Kim Jae-yoon, who has 169 career saves, moved to the Samsung Lions on the 22nd for up to 5.8 billion won (four years). In a free agency market that has been heating up since the beginning of the year, Ko Jong-wook’s contract seems modest.

However, it’s a contract that means a lot to the player. After debuting with the Nexen Heroes (now Kiwoom) in the 2011 season, Ko Jong-wook made excellent contact, posting a .304 batting average in 856 games (2938 at-bats) through the 2021 season. However, he was released by SSG Landers after the 2021 season.

In December 2021, with a cold winter ahead, Go Jong-wook was offered a fresh start by KIA. The adjustment was not easy. He lost out to fierce competition in the outfield and was mostly used as a pinch-hitter. He only played 62 games in the 2022 season. He was eligible for free agency for the first time in his career after the regular season, but was forced to waive his rights.

However, Go bounced back in 2023, hitting .296 in 114 games. While he wasn’t a regular outfielder, he served as the No. 1 option for KIA manager Kim Jong-kook when it mattered most. He batted .286 in those games off the bench. His batting average with runners in scoring position (0.346) was also very high.
Go exercised his free agency rights again this year. As a Class C free agent, which means that teams only need to compensate him 150% of his previous salary (70 million won) without a compensation player, he received a lot of interest from other teams.

Jong-wook chose KIA. “This is the team that gave me a second chance at the most difficult time (after being released). I played for them for the past two years and adapted to the organization, my teammates, and the area (Gwangju). I wanted to finish my career with KIA.”

The length of the contract is also disappointing for Ko Jong-wook. He wanted to sign a three-year (2+1) contract, even with an option clause, but he soon relented. He said, “I’ve known Shim Jae-hak as a coach and player since my time with Nexen, and coach Kim Jong-kook has given me many opportunities to shine as a substitute this season (2023). I have faith in the general manager and coach, so if I can prove myself, I will still be with KIA in two years’ time.”

His family and friends were disappointed because there were other teams where he could play with better treatment. “The most important thing is to be happy while playing baseball, and I thought I could do that at KIA,” he told them. Eventually, he received support from those around him.

The source of his “happy baseball” is the support of KIA fans. His goal for the rest of his career is to repay them with better results. He said, “KIA receives a lot of support no matter where I go. Honestly, it gives me the taste to play baseball as a player.” He continued, “KIA is definitely a team that can aim for the top. I will give you a better performance. I will give a better performance in Gwangju once again.”

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