Cleveland Indians outfielder Shin-Soo Choo helped South Korea's baseball team clinch the gold medal Friday from defending champion Taiwan in the 16th Asian Games. But will it be enough to exempt him from serving in South Korea's military?
Cleveland's general manager seems to think so, even though, as of Saturday, the Indians have not received official declaration from the Korean Baseball Office, according to MLB.com.
"We have not received official word from the K.B.O. that he's been granted a military exemption," Chris Antonetti told MLB.com. "But, based upon our understanding prior to the Asian Games, as well as past precedent, it's our understanding that Choo's military obligation will be waived."
Even Cleveland's budding star acknowledged that the thought has crossed his mind.
"Honestly, if [I told you] I didn't think about the military service, I might be a liar," he told Korean reporters, according to MLB.com.
"But it wasn't the primary reason to join in national team. I love baseball, and whenever I put the national flag on the shoulder, I am really proud of my nation and myself."
All able-bodied South Korean men over 20 are required to serve at least two years in the military, according to the Korea Times.
Korean athletes are offered the prospect of exemption from military service if they take home gold in the Asian Games, "a huge motivation for them to mark good results."
Ten members of the winning baseball team will get the exemption, the paper reported, without specifying whether the 28-year-old Choo would be one of them.
Choo's contributions to South Korea's 9-3 win over defending champion Taiwan included two hits, two RBIs and a stolen base. During South Korea's undefeated tournament streak, he hit at a .571 (8-for-14) clip with three home runs, six walks, eight runs scored and 11 RBIs for South Korea, according to MLB.com.
Privately, the team never worried that they'd lose Choo to the Korean military, Cleveland Plain Dealer sportwriter Paul Hoynes said. Choo would have established residency in the United States if the issue couldn't be resolved diplomatically or on the diamond.
As a Cleveland Indian, Choo has hit .300 with 22 home runs, 90 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 144 games. He is also the only Indians player since 1901 to record a .300 average and at least 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in consecutive seasons.
The question of military exemption could still play into the Indians' attempts to sign him to a contract extension. He is eligible for arbitration in January, but Cleveland plans on exploring a long-term deal, MLB.com reported.
"I think it's important to remember that Choo is under club control for the next three years, but we'll certainly look at the opportunity to extend that relationship beyond that," the website said.
"We certainly value him and are hopeful that he'll be a Cleveland Indian for quite a long time."