A 145-kilometer pitcher in recreational baseball: what’s the secret to a ‘never give up’ hero?

The Korea Baseball Softball Association (KBSA) hosted the ‘2023 2nd Shido Daehang Baseball Tournament’ on Feb. 28, ending with Chungcheongnam-do winning the title. The tournament, which is in its second year after last year’s, is the highest-level competition in recreational baseball, open to any player who has not been registered as a professional athlete since February 28, 2023.

With many former professional players participating and showing a higher level of baseball than last year, Chungcheongnam-do defeated last year’s runner-up team, Busan Metropolitan City, in the semifinals and then won the final against Gwangju Metropolitan City 5-2 at Daejeon Hanwha Life Eagles Park on the 28th. Once again, the mound was the driving force, as it held off Gwangju’s bats.

On the day, Chungnam was able to hold off Gwangju thanks to a strong performance from right-hander Cho Bum-jun (26), who was the second pitcher after starter Lim Do-hyuk. With a 2-0 lead, Cho Bum-joon relieved Lim Do-hyuk with the bases loaded in the third inning and struck out Jung Gun-seok, Kim Min-ho, and Lim Tae-joon to put out the fire. He continued to pitch well in the fourth inning, not allowing a run. Despite allowing the tying run to score in the fifth, he was impressive enough to be named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

The big surprise was his control. Most of these former professionals are now working for a living. As they age, their athleticism declines and it’s hard for them to put in the work to compensate. Naturally, their batting average also drops. Lim Do-hyuk and Kim Jin-woo, Gwangju’s second pitcher of the day, also played professionally, but their top speeds were in the low 130 kilometers per hour. Cho Bum-joon, on the other hand, didn’t have a ball that went below 140 mph.

The Gwangju hitters were left with their tongues hanging out as Cho threw hard pitches in the mid-140s on the day. His fastball touched 145 mph, and given the weather conditions, it could have been even faster. He was able to keep the Gwangju hitters at bay with his fastball outside the zone. In terms of velocity alone, it was “foul” in the club competition.

Cho is still young at 26 years old. He graduated from Dongsan High School and Incheon Talent University and was drafted by the Nexen in the 7th round (64th overall) in 2019. While his restraint wasn’t particularly strong during his high school career, he showed a marked improvement in his college career, leading to his professional designation.

However, he never made it to the first team and only played in the Futures League (second division) for three years from 2019 to 2021. He left the organization after the 2021 season after compiling a 3-3 record with a 6.63 ERA in 48 games in the Futures League. But he hasn’t given up on his professional dreams just yet. He’s been working hard to get back in shape, and his fastball, which sits in the mid-to-high 140s, has been maintained in that endeavor.

After the game, Cho said, “I’m very happy that we worked well as a team and won. I’m grateful to the officials and my family for their continued support despite the rain. I also want to say thank you to my mom, dad, and brother.”

The key to maintaining his restraint was consistent exercise. “I think the fact that I kept working out to join a professional team even after I was released gave me good results,” Cho said. “Before I came, I said I would still practice, but I didn’t pitch much. I think I lost strength as the number of pitches increased.” If you continue to train systematically, you can expect even better results.

While the Trial by Fire is the pinnacle of recreational baseball, it’s also a great way for players who haven’t yet given up on their professional dreams to stay motivated. The protagonist of the second edition was Cho Bum-jun. It will be interesting to see if his future story will include a try vs. try baseball tournament.