The dream becomes a reality for the star outfielder who moves to the KBO club in his hometown

The South Korean bully Na Sung-bum grew up in the southern city of Gwangju and campaigned for the Kia Tigers. He attended their home stadium with his parents, and as a teenager, his middle and high school teams even played a few games there.

And from 2022 Na will play for the Tigers. As a free agent, Na signed a six-year contract worth 15 billion won ($ 12.6 million) with the Tigers on Thursday, a deal that set the record for the largest free agent deal in the history of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO ) represents.

Who said you can’t go home again?

“I grew up with admiration for this ball club and always wanted to play for the Tigers,” said Na shortly after announcing his deal with the club. “At some point in my career I wanted to wear this team’s shirt and that has now become a reality.”

Na was released from college by the NC Dinos in 2011. They convinced Na to go from pitcher to outfielder, and he had a successful career in his new position.

He broke out in his sophomore year with 30 homers and 101 RBIs in 2014. From then on, he’s had over 20 home runs and 90 RBIs each year, with the exception of an injury-ridden 2019 when he missed 121 games with a knee injury.

The Tigers are betting on more of them from Na, who took second place in the KBO this year with 33 home runs. The entire Tigers team scored the worst 66 home runs in the league in 2021. They also finished last on runs scored (568) and base plus slugging percentage (0.673).

The deal seems like a no-brainer for both parties as the team works hard after one of the most feared thugs on the open market and the same player joins their home team.

But Na said he had made “an extremely difficult decision” to leave the Dinos, the only professional club he had known for a decade. The dinosaurs made him a competitive offer too, added Na.

“I got a call from Kia on the first day that I was allowed to sign with another team (besides the dinosaurs),” said Na. “I negotiated the agentless deal for myself and the Tigers have been very thoughtful and considerate throughout the process.”

Na’s signing with the Tigers had been the KBO’s worst-kept secret for weeks. The specific term and the amount of money were also not far from the rumors.

Another persistent rumor was that Na had already signed his contract and the Tigers had only hesitated to announce it because they wanted to close a deal with free agent pitcher Yang Hyeon-jong, a franchise icon that went on to become the KBO would like to return a cup of coffee with the Texas Rangers.

The final meeting between the Tigers and the pitcher, held on Wednesday, went nowhere, and Nas’ signature was announced less than 24 hours later.

Na denied having signed a contract long before Thursday, but admitted that he had decided to sign with the Tigers in early December.

Na said it was more important to him to prove that he was worth all the money he was going to get.

“I understand that I am expected to come up with big numbers in order to perform this contract,” said Na. “I’m proud to be a hard working player and I will continue to work with Kia.”

Also on Thursday, Na uploaded a photo of a handwritten letter to Dinos fans on his Instagram thanking them for their support over the years and apologizing for leaving the team and its southeastern city of Changwon.

“I played for my first professional team in Changwon, and that’s where I bought my first house and my two children were born and raised there,” wrote Na. “Every success I’ve had has been a gift from NC Dinos. My life would have been very different if the team hadn’t given me this opportunity. I’ll never forget that.” (Yonhap)


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