Dordt pitcher breaks new record for single-season strikeout

Yee Lim Shin—Staff Writer

Contributed Photo

Gyeongju Kim walks to the mound, glove and ball in hand. His heart pounds as the energy drink he drank half an hour ago courses through his veins. With his glove concealing his face, he looks to his opponent and calculates which ball to throw. Then he fires a pitch.

Ball one.

Without missing a beat, he regains his stance. His windup and pitch turn into one fluid motion as he throws another ball to the hitter.

Strike. Then strike two. Then strike three. The hitter is out, and the next player comes up to bat.

Gyeongju Kim, one of the four starting pitchers for Dordt, currently holds the Dordt record for the most single-season strikeouts. With 88 strikeouts and one more game left, he broke the record of Conner Hopkin’s 79 strikeouts from 2017.

As he looks over to the hitters, he analyzes their every move to the finest of detail from the way they hold their bat to the way they stand next to the home plate.

“The day before the game starts, I usually look up the statistics of their information of their hitters, what they’re good at, which pitch they can hit, which pitch they can’t,” Kim said, “I figure out their weakness and try to attack them.”

Baseball was not new to Kim when he came to Dordt this spring semester. Born in Busan, South Korea, Kim grew up participating in a lot of sports teams, but baseball had a special place in his heart.

“The first time I threw a baseball, I felt like it was a different feeling from when I played other sports,” Kim said.

His passion for baseball led to his family moving to Seoul, South Korea in order for him to pursue his dream in a bigger baseball community. During the fall of 2017, Kim attended a baseball showcase at Dallas, Texas where he met and connected with Nathan Bacon, who at that time was the assistant coach of the University of the Ozarks. With Bacon’s help, Kim was able to get into the University of the Ozarks.

“I didn’t have a TOEFL [Test of English as a Foreign Language] score therefore there was not much places I could go,” Kim said, “At Ozarks, Assistant Coach B. offered and I accepted.”

After two years of attending the University of the Ozarks, Kim went back to South Korea to finish his military service. During that time, Kim and Bacon kept in touch, and when Bacon moved to become the head baseball coach for Dordt, he contacted Kim to join Dordt’s team. He arrived a few weeks before the spring semester began and started practicing with Dordt’s baseball players.

Transitioning from South Korea to the University of the Ozarks was one struggle Kim had to overcome, but 19 months of military service was another big change.

“In the military, there’s no time to prepare and play baseball,” Kim said.

While doing his service on the island of Dokdo, in South Korea, Kim was able to go out one day per week and play baseball with a group in the community. They would go to the nearest open space, a playground, where Kim would teach and practice with them. It was these short moments that Kim used to be in peak pitching condition before coming to Dordt.

Since coming to Dordt, Kim has pitched a total of nine games with five wins and four losses. Of those games, the one that stuck with him the most was Dordt’s game against Concordia University. Kim went in as the starting pitcher, threw seven innings, and got three runs. Concordia University was first in the GPAC standing, and Dordt faced a loss of 1-3.  

“One of the things that I learned was that even though I try really hard if the things do not go well, I need to hold my emotional feelings and not spread it out to the other players,” Kim said, “Even though our defense makes an error, even though I throw a really bad pitch and give them a score that makes the game a loss, it doesn’t matter.”

Kim described the importance of having a good attitude in baseball, despite the outcome. The unpredictability of baseball meant no one knew the outcome of the game until the end. This was how people could figure out the difference between a good and bad pitcher. A good pitcher would always refresh and move on. They hold the score and try win the game and never give up until the game was over. But other pitchers would give up during a game, especially if they give up a home run to the other team, or the umpire calls a strike.

This is why Kim has his own way of “refreshing” and keeping himself in check and stay consistent until the end of the game. After every strike, he walks to the side of the mound and does a little hop before going back to pitch again.

“Honestly, it’s a routine I’ve been doing since high school,” Kim said, “When I’m hopping, I’m trying to refresh, kind of like a self-signal to just move on. Don’t celebrate the strikeout, just focus on the next hitter.”

Those couple seconds of keep him focused and in control of his throws instead of throwing the next pitch harder to strike out the hitter. It’s calculated moments like these that led Kim to break the record of the most single-season strikeouts.

When a pitcher pitches, he greatly relies on his catcher to have his back. It’s no different with Kim and Dordt’s catcher Cameron Pfafman. Pfafman, who is also Kim’s roommate, has been able to connect with Kim and create a relationship of mutual trust both on and off the field.

“He’s a very crafty pitcher,” Pfafman said, “He’s able to attack guys with a lot of different pitches. He’s very confident in how his stuff is working even on a particularity off day, which he doesn’t have many of them. But he will still go after every guy in different ways.”

Though they are 60 feet across from each other, they can communicate nonverbally. Sometimes by looking at each other in surprise when a pitch gets hit, or by how the catcher holds out his arms to have something the pitcher can focus on. They balance and help each other out throughout the play.

Once the school year ends, Kim plans on playing summer ball in Kansas in order to keep in shape over the break. Summer ball is a time when coaches gather players from different states and countries to play baseball over the summer together, giving them opportunities to learn from each other and share the different thoughts and ideas they have. For people like Kim, it would also create extra time and exposure for scouts to come and watch him play.

“My future goal is going to MLB and playing baseball as much as I can,” Kim said, “Also another plan is to go back to South Korea and play pro ball too. But my primary goal is playing baseball in MLB.”

There are two ways to go into MLB: getting drafted or through free agents. The drafting process usually happens in July, where corporations select players and bring them to play. Free agents help players create contracts with corporations so they can play.

His dream of playing in the MLB has been around since he was a kid. Once fulfilled, he hopes to retire and coach baseball to kids.

“Kim is a guy that’s infectious,” Bacon said, “Every year, all his teammates love him. He’s infectious but he’s also a fierce competitor at the same time. And I know that no matter what he chooses to do in his life that he is going to be impactful in the community of people that he’s surrounded by.”

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