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Culture Shock: Kyeong Kang
05/07/2010 11:18 AM ET
By Jonathan Gantt
(Contact Jonathan at jgantt@stonecrabsbaseball.com)


Adolescence is a tough - peer pressure, transitioning to high school, everyone speaking a different language than you.

At least, that was the situation Charlotte Stone Crabs outfielder Kyeong Kang faced when he and his family moved from South Korea to Norcross, Ga. when he was 14 years old.

Though he showed promise as a baseball player, Kang's parents wanted to ensure he received a quality education to prepare him for a career off the field. So, they packed everything and brought him and his brother to America as they started high school.

"I couldn't read or write when I first moved to the America," Kang said. "I didn't know any English at all."

Kang grew up in the bustling metropolis of Busan, located on the southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula. Busan boasts the second-largest population in South Korea with more than 3.5 million residents, slightly more than the 8,500 or so who live full-time in the vacation town of Norcross.

The culture differences are both large and small in nature: Korean students wear uniforms in school, Korean culture dictates a strong, mandatory respect for all elders and Korean McDonald's restaurants feature a "shrimp burger" on their menu. Needless to say, the transition was difficult.

The culture and language shock proved to be the biggest obstacle as Kang acclimated to life in the States. Luckily, he had teachers, coaches and classmates who were willing to lend a hand.

"My teachers really helped me out a lot and gave me extra attention," Kang said. "My classmates would also help me out if I ever had questions."

Though he has not yet developed a southern drawl, he does have a solid understanding of the English language. But just like learning to hit a curveball, it did not come easy.

"It took me about three years before I started to really feel comfortable with the language and the culture," Kang said.

The baseball diamond, however, always made Kang feel at home. Watching Kang on the field and in the clubhouse at Charlotte Sports Park, he seems at ease -- he's just one of the guys.

"The baseball field is the only place that I've always felt comfortable," Kang said.

After graduating from Parkview High School in 2006, Kang turned down scholarship offers from several colleges including University of Georgia and chose to play for the Tampa Bay "Devil" Rays, who drafted him in the 15th round of the June Draft.

Just three seasons into his professional career, he led Low-A Bowling Green with a .307 batting average and played for the World Team in the Futures Game as part of the 2009 Major League Baseball All-Star Weekend in St. Louis. The all-star game highlights Minor League players from both the U.S. and foreign countries, and Kang served as the representative from the Rays organization on the World team.

"That was an awesome experience," Kang said. "Definitely one of the highlights of my career so far." Although he occasionally interacts with players like Texas Rangers minor leaguer Yoon-Hee Nam, players from his home country are few and far between. But he does have Major Leaguers like Shin-Soo Choo (Cleveland Indians) and Chan Ho Park (Philadelphia Phillies) paving the way for South Koreans in the Major Leagues.

With his parents having moved back to Busan after his brother graduated in 2007, Kang also returns to his native country each offseason to train in hopes of one day playing more than 7,000 miles away at Tropicana Field.

"I want to find a way to travel between both countries with my career," Kang said. "I can't pick just one."

In the meantime, he will try to impress the Rays and move his way up the ranks just like every other Stone Crabs player. And he will dive for fly balls and swing for the Tiki Hut just like every other Stone Crabs player.

And he will write his post-game batting journal in Korean unlike every other Stone Crabs player.


This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.