Opening Day is finally here!
While the beginning of the Major League Baseball season is indefinitely on hold due to COVID-19, professional baseball is back – in South Korea! Last night, Monday May 4, marked the beginning of the season for the Korea Baseball Organization.
The KBO is the highest level of baseball in South Korea. The league consists of 10 teams. They usually play a 144-game schedule, with each team playing each other a total of 16 times. Instead of being named after the cities in which they play, most teams are named after the congolomerates that own them, such as familiar companies Kia, Samsung, and LG.
There are a few players you might recognize. Former San Francisco Giant, Matt Williams, is the manager of the Kia Tigers. Some other former major leaguers include…
- P – Chris Flexen (Mets)
- P – Raul Alcantara (Athletics)
- IF – Jose Miguel Fernandez (Angels)
- P – Chad Bell (Tigers)
- P – Warwick Saupold (Tigers)
- OF – Jared Hoying (Rangers)
- P – Odrisamer Despaigne (Padres, Orioles, Marlins, Angels, White Sox)
- P – William Cuevas (Red Sox and Tigers)
- 3B – Jae-gyun Hwang (Giants)
- OF – Mel Rojas Jr. (Pirates and Braves minor league affiliates)
- P – Aaron Brooks (Royals, Athletics, and Orioles)
- P – Drew Gagnon (Mets)
- OF – Preston Tucker (Astros, Braves, and Reds)
- P – Jake Brigham (Braves)
- P – Eric Jokisch (Cubs)
- IF/OF – Taylor Motter (Rays, Mariners, and Twins)
- 1B – Byung-Ho Park (Twins)
- P – Casey Kelly (Padres, Braves, and Giants)
- P – Tyler Wilson (Orioles)
- P – Adrian Sampson (Mariners and Rangers)
- 1B – Dae-ho Lee (Mariners)
- P- Dan Straily (Athletics, Cubs, Astros, Reds, Marlins, and Orioles)
- IF – Dixon Machado (Tigers)
- OF – Aaron Altherr (Phillies)
- P – Mike Wright (Orioles and Mariners)
- P – Drew Rucinski (Angles, Twins, and Marlins)
- 1B/ OF – Jamie Romak (Dodgers and Diamondbacks)
- P – Richardo Pinto (Phillies and Rays)
- P -Nick Kingham (Pirates and Blue Jays)
- 1B/ OF – Darin Ruf (Phillies)
- IF – Tyler Saladion (Whites Sox and Brewers)
- P – Lisalverto Bonilla (Rangers and Reds)
- P – Seunghwan Oh (Cardinals, Blue Jays, and Rockies)
- P – Ben Lively (Phillies and Royals)
- P – David Buchanan (Phillies)
One of the names that sticks out to me on that list is Kiwoon Heroes pitcher, Jake Brigham.
In 2006, after completing his season at the Central Florida Christian Academy, Brigham was selected in the 6th Round of the MLB amateur player draft by the Texas Rangers. After a great start to his minor league career, Brigham suffered an arm injury that required Tommy John surgery and forced him to miss the entire 2008 season. In 2009, a whirlwind through the minor league ranks began. He would spend the next 4 seasons between Hickory, NC, Bakersfield, CA, and Frisco, TX.
In 2012, the Rangers added Brigham to their 40-man roster to prevent him from being selected by another team in the Rule 5 draft. This, however, did not stop the whirlwind! In July of 2012, Brigham was traded to the Chicago Cubs for catcher, Geovany Soto. By November that year, however, he was traded back to the Rangers, this time for Barret Loux. Brigham remained in the Rangers organization for only one season before joining the Pirates organization in 2014. 2015 began in Braves organization, where he received his call up to the major leagues, making his debut on June 30. His time with the Braves, however, would be limited to only 12 games. In 2015, he moved onto the Tigers organization, who then sold his rights to Japan’s Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in December. In 2017, he came back to the states for a second stint with the Tigers. Finally, in November of 2017, he found a more permanent home – all the way in Korea! He signed with the Nexen Heroes, who are now the Kiwoom Heroes.
What sustained Brigham through all the changes was his faith.
Brigham’s father, Earl, is deaf. That, however, has not stopped him from sending out a loud and clear message about his faith. In addition to owning and operating his own barbershop, Earl Brigham serves as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Central’s Florida’s Deaf Church in Ocoee. He passed on to his children devoted faith in God, the value of hard work and effort, and a love for baseball. Earl would often take his children to the ballfield, where he would always be the pitcher. Jake told Andrew Carter of the Orlando Sentinel; “He thought he was Roger Clemens. And that’s the truth . . . He’d throw probably 30 balls before he ever threw a ball you could hit. He thought he was the hardest thrower ever. Those were good times.”
Earl set the example that you always have to work hard, never give up, and trust in God to help you through it all. That’s exactly what Brigham has done. He refused to give up, even as following his dream sent him all over this country, to Japan and back, and finally to Korea.
Jake’s greatest challenge, however, was one that occurred away from the baseball diamond. While he was playing in Korea, he and his wife, Taylor, were expecting a baby girl, whose name was Grace. Grace, however, did not survive. Brigham was overcome by deep sorrow. His teammates recall hearing him literally screaming in agony over his loss. The perseverance he learned from his father, however, stayed with him. He remained in Korea and kept pitching through his time of turmoil. Before the first pitch of each game, he would reach down into the dirt of the pitcher’s mound and use his fingers to inscribe the letters S,C,G and T – for his children Stella, Cope, Grace, and his wife Taylor (they’ve since welcomed another baby girl, Sloan, to the family as well). He would also have his pastor come and join the team once each week to pray for him and his teammates. Brigham would later say that; “the Love of Jesus and words from my teammates helped me overcome the sorrow of losing a lovely baby. I’m really thankful to be able to share my story to the fans. Fans, I pray with all my heart, for us to be people who never give up under any kind of circumstances.”
As his father, Earl, was an example of the Christian life to him, Jake also strives to be a good example to others. One of his favorite Bible Verses which he shared on Instagram is 1 Peter 4:8, which reads, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” Jake tries to lead a life of love each day, often visiting orphanages in Korea and doing all that he can to share the love of Jesus.
As we await the first pitch of the Major Leagues here in the state, I, for one, will be rooting for Jake Brigham and the Kiwoon Heroes of the KBO.