2014-02-20 / Sports
Agoura welcomes South Korean baseball team
Chargers split doubleheader with Yatap High of South Korea in memorable baseball exhibition
Agoura and Yatap high schools’ varsity baseball players couldn’t ask each other questions. They learned about each other by playing the game.
“Baseball is a universal language,” Chargers head coach Anthony Chevrier said.
“Baseball brings people together,” said Jacob Stock, an Agoura senior catcher and outfielder. “We share this bond of baseball.
“This is a once in a lifetime experience.”
After Agoura won the first game of its doubleheader with Yatap 6-0 on Feb. 15 at AHS, the teams exchanged gifts at home plate.
Players gathered for a group photo. Several Yatap standouts donned Agoura caps, while a handful of Chargers wrapped towels with Yatap’s logo around their necks. Players smiled and slung their arms around each others’ shoulders.
“ We come from different countries,” Agoura junior catcher Ryan Fineman said, “but we’re all friends.”
Yatap High, located in Bundang gu, South Korea, is in the midst of a 40-day tour of Southern California. The team plays St. Francis today and a doubleheader against Bishop Amat on Saturday. Yatap flies home on Monday.
Yatap, ranked No. 4 in its South Korean league, started playing baseball in 1997.
This is the first time a South Korean high school has visited and played baseball games against American teams, according to Mike Gin, co-founder of the Far East Baseball Exchange.
“Baseball is a vehicle for youth to interact and get to know each other,” said Gin, a former lefthanded pitcher, first baseman and outfielder for Pasadena High in the mid-1980s. “It’s very cool to be part of this experience. All the teams have been very gracious.”
Players and coaches on both sides made the most of the day in the sun.
Albee Weiss, a senior catcher who signed a scholarship with Cal State Northridge, is a fan of the World Baseball Classic. This doubleheader was the next best thing for a high school kid.
“It’s not too often that this happens,” Weiss said.
Yatap displayed a knack for timely situational hitting in the af- ternoon affair. A Yatap outfielder snagged an Agoura home run at the left center field wall before a teammate threw out a Charger runner at first base on a relay to complete a dynamic double play in Game Two, a 6-4 Yatap victory.
“Both teams play hard and want to win,” Weiss said. “They’re very detailed, from their stretching to their pregame warm-ups to their dugout etiquette. Everything is very . . . official. They have a presence when they come out to the field. It’s special.”
Fineman, who verbally committed to the University of Notre Dame, said playing the South Korea team was a “humbling experience.” He said he wants to take what he learned on Saturday and apply it with the Chargers.
Agoura opens its regular season at 11 a.m. on March 1 at home against Camarillo.
“It’s great to play a team from another country,” Fineman said. “They’re super-detailed. You see how well they work together. If we do that, I know we can have a special season.”
Yatap players and coaches said they learned something about baseball.
“Just the fact that we’re playing with these teams, those are the memories I want to keep,” Hyo Jun Park said through a translator. Park, 17, is a shortstop for Yatap. “Compared to the other teams, (Agoura) had better hitting, more power. They were fun to watch.”
Yatap manager Sung Yong Kim noted Agoura’s power when the Chargers were warming up playing catch.
“We’ve played a lot of different teams,” Kim said through a translator. “Agoura is one of the top teams. It seems like we can learn a lot from their program. . . . This is about exposing (our) players to something different. We want to learn from what we see and use that as motivation. It’s more about the kids.”
In the third inning of the second game, a Yatap player broke his wood bat on a pitch from David Appleby, an Agoura junior. Appleby dodged the flying projectiles, and handed the broken pieces to Park.
After the game, the Yatap batter gave Appleby the barrel of the broken bat. Appleby plans to hang the bat, a priceless memento, on a wall in his bedroom.
“It’s a cool cultural experience,” Appleby said. “It was a fun day. . . . I hope we made them feel welcome on our field and in our home.”
Gin, who has watched almost all of Yatap’s Southern California games, was one of the last spectators to leave Agoura’s field.
He soaked in the moment.
“They’re all connecting on the field even though they don’t speak the same language,” Gin said. “This is a great lesson for all of us: It sounds corny, but if we work together, we can make it a better world.”