The Last Word

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

Shin-Soo Choo was at the Rogers Centre this week.

Blue Jays reliever Brandon League had seen the Cleveland Indians outfielder before.

Back in 2000, League was wearing Team USA colours and Choo, a Korean uniform, during the world junior championship held at Telus Field in Edmonton.

It was one of the more memorable appearances on the international stage. Choo, the best Choo since Choo Freeman of the Colorado Rockies or Choo-Choo Coleman of the New York Mets, pitched 4 1/3 innings.

What's the big whoop about working 4 1/3 innings of relief? Well, the lefty entered the game in the first with two men on and none out. He pitched two innings and then manager Cho Sung Ok sent him to centre field.

Then, in the 11th with two out, Choo came on in relief again and pitched 2 1/3 more innings as Team Korean beat Team USA 9-7 in 13 innings to win the gold before 3,500 fans.

"All our players were crying, after the final out, a pop up to short," Choo said this week in the visiting clubhouse at Rogers Centre. "Everyone knows that the USA is the best at baseball. It was big news in the papers at home."

When the celebrating died down, Korea had a 7-1 record -- its only loss to Canada -- and gold. Choo then adjourned to a quiet spot in the park. His father, Park-Whoo Jung, mother, Choo So Min, and Seattle Mariners scout Jim Colburn were there.

The M's gave Choo a signing bonus of $1.39 million US. He said he gave all of his bonus to his family from Pusan, Korea, for, "taking care of him for 18 years."

Choo said his fastball was clocked at 93-94 miles per hour, before and after his stints in the outfield.

"That's the same guy? I remember him," League said. "But he wasn't throwing 94 ... it was at least 96."

After Dong-Hyun Lee allowed hits to the first two hitters of the game, on came Choo. With two out and the bases loaded, Team USA scored on a bases-loaded double. ("My centre fielder should have caught the ball," Choo said.)

After he allowed a run in the second, Korea fell behind 4-1 and he headed to centre. Choo then came on cold with two out in the 11th to face Joe Mauer, now a Minnesota Twin.

"Struck him out on a fastball," Choo said. Two years later Mauer and Choo were single-A Midwest league all-stars.

Mauer: "Hey Shin, remember me?"

Choo: "That's you ... from Edmonton?"

Choo issued two walks to open the 12th but pitched himself out of a jam. After Korea scored twice in the 13th, he shut the door. It was his second win, earning tourney MVP honours.

Team USA had a number of future pros. Besides Mauer, Jeremy Bonderman (Tigers), J.J. Hardy (Brewers), J.P. Howell (Devil Rays) and Michael Aubrey (in the Indians system) were on the team.

We're no pitching coach, but why is Choo now an outfielder, rather than pitching? Lefties who dial 95 aren't common.

"Ask Seattle," Choo said with a smirk.

"I'll tell you why he doesn't pitch, he's a heck of a hitter," said League, who allowed two runs in his inning or work. Choo had two hits in the gold-medal game.

After hitting .282 with 11 homers and 54 RBIs in 115 games at triple-A Tacoma in 2005, he was promoted to Seattle and hit .056 in 10 games. The M's sent Choo to Cleveland for first baseman Ben Broussard on July 27.

Against the Jays, he had three hits in Wednesday's 7-2 win and two in Monday's 4-3 loss. On the season, he is hitting .290 with two homers and 17 RBIs in 33 games.

Sounds like a good trip to Toronto. Not exactly. He missed hooking up with his pal Hyung Cho, former Team Canada star, and found out he had been cut from Korea's entry into the Asian Games.

"If I win gold before I'm 29, I don't have to serve in the Korean army," Choo said (The gold in 2000 doesn't count because there was not a deal with the government at that time). "I have the World Baseball Classic (in 2009), the Olympics (2008 if Korea makes it) and the Asian Games."

And if not?

He shrugged.


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