He came to the pros as a lowly draft pick, and it wasn’t easy for him to earn a starting spot. But now he has made the leap to becoming someone’s idol. This is the story of NC Dinos infielder Seo Ho-cheol (27).
Seo, who was drafted by NC with the 87th overall pick in the 2019 Secondary 9th Round after graduating from Suncheon Hyochun High and Dong-A University, had his best season in four years. In 114 games with the first team, he batted .287 (114-for-435) with five home runs, 41 RBIs, 50 runs scored, four doubles, a .331 on-base percentage, a .383 slugging percentage, and a .714 OPS.
Seo, who started the season as a backup, earned a starting spot after a series of injuries to second baseman Park Min-woo and third baseman Park Seok-min, and then locked in at third base, where he hit so well that he was the No. 1 hitter at one point in mid-June. As the season progressed, his hitting declined, but he continued to play solidly, securing a spot in the infield.
Seo’s best performance came in the postseason. In Game 1 of the wild-card decider against the Doosan Bears, he went 3-for-4 with six RBIs, including a game-winning home run in the fourth inning. He followed that up with a 10-for-4 performance in the semifinals against the SSG Landers, with three RBIs in the team’s three-game sweep. Although he struggled in the five-game playoffs against KT Wiz, going 1-for-18, Seo’s role in NC defying expectations and advancing to the Korean Series cannot be ignored.
It’s especially remarkable that he bounced back from a season-long injury. After being hit in the head by a pitch in mid-April, Seo suffered a fractured nose and damaged finger ligaments. He even tore an ankle ligament in the dugout just before the postseason started. However, he continued to play with determination despite his physical condition, and showed great performance in fall baseball.
NC coach Kang Myung-ho, 51, told Star News after the season, “(Seo) Ho-cheol had good qualities since he was an amateur. He just didn’t have a role after entering the professional ranks, so people didn’t realize it.” “This year, as he gained game experience, he showed his true colors,” he said. After showing promise as a pro, including being named the Futures League batting champion (2021), he has now become a mainstay.
The record isn’t the only positive aspect of Seo’s performance this season. The fact that a low-ranked college rookie has been able to rise to the top of the roster after a long learning curve has given hope to the entire team. In fact, he has become a role model for many younger players.
Pitcher Jeon Jae-min (24), who was a teammate of Seo’s when he joined the team, said, “From the time we first joined together, (Seo) worked harder than everyone else. We worked out together to get in shape before joining the team, and I’ve been watching him do his best since then.” He showed the pace that allowed him to become the batting champion in the second team, and he was good at baseball.” He continued, “I was watching him work hard to do better in the commercial world, and I thought, ‘I should do that, too. I’m learning from his shoulder, even though it’s a different position.”
Park In-woo, 22, an infielder who joined the franchise this year after graduating from university, said, “The coaches also said, ‘You know Seo Ho-cheol, you should be like him.’ I watched a lot of YouTube videos. I watched a lot of YouTube videos. I’ll do my best to be like him,” he said. “I want to learn the stability of defense,” he said, “and the step from catching to throwing is stable.
His coach also recognized this aspect of Seo’s game. “In the long run, I think Seo will be able to establish himself as a leader of the team,” Kang said. Kang has been known as a “quiet leader” since his playing days. Hitting coach Song Ji-won (50), who also played with the Hanwha Eagles, said, “He always had a certain force and weight to him. He wasn’t a very talkative person.” He has leadership qualities that even his coach recognizes.
“You have to recognize where you are and think about how to do well,” Seo said. “It’s not just that I’m a pro, but that I’m here, so I want him to be responsible,” he said, adding, “I’m the same way. I think I need to take responsibility and do better.” He left a message for his juniors.
He gave hope not only to the players but also to the fans. Recently, Seo, along with junior Kim Joo-won (21), gave an unforgettable gift to a child battling an incurable disease at their home stadium, Changwon NC Park. The two players took Gong Min-jun, who is undergoing treatment for germ cell tumor, on a tour of the ballpark and had a great time singing cheers together. Seo Ho-cheol said, “I think I played well when I have fans who love me like this. I will do my best if I have a place like this,” he said.