With only one newcomer, Ryu Hyun-jin (37), the goals of the entire Hanwha Eagles organization are shifting. Initially aiming to return to the fall stage for the first time in six years after 2018, Hanwha is now looking beyond fifth place after camping with Ryu Hyun-jin.

The Hanwha Eagles, led by manager Choi Won-ho, returned home through Incheon International Airport Terminal 1 on Thursday afternoon after completing spring camps in Melbourne, Australia, and Okinawa, Japan.

Hanwha concluded its spring training schedule with a scrimmage against the KT Wiz (0-2 loss) at the Gochinda Stadium in Okinawa, Japan on March 3. Hanwha won two games against the Australian national team in Melbourne, Australia, their first spring training destination, before going 2-1 and 2-2 in Okinawa. The team’s record in the first and second camps was four wins, one draw and two losses.

Hanwha traveled to Okinawa after the first camp in Melbourne, Australia, where the team focused on physical fitness and technical training, and then moved into game mode. The pitchers improved their pitches, while the batters refined their hitting and worked on their weaknesses in practice to prepare for the upcoming season.

“The first camp was focused on getting as fit as possible to play, and the second camp was aimed at adapting to the game,” Choi said at the arrival hall of Incheon International Airport. However, as planned, both the first and second camps produced good results. As a coach, I’m proud of the results.”

The talk of Hanwha’s spring training was the return of the No. 99 ace. The team signed Ryu Hyun-jin for eight years and 17 billion won, the largest contract in KBO history, to return to Korea after 12 years away from the major leagues.

Ryu met his spring training goals by pitching out of the bullpen in Okinawa and making one live pitch. Ryu is now set to start the opening game against the LG Twins at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on May 23.

Choi said, “Ryu was pitching indoors only, but when he came to Okinawa, he pitched outdoors twice, and his body was in good shape compared to what he did indoors. His live pitching was also better than I expected, with a variety of changeups and fastballs.”

We also got to hear what it was like to meet and coach Ryu in person. “He has a big physique. He’s got a lot of shine,” Choi said with a chuckle, adding, “He’s bigger than before he went to the United States. I’ve changed into a player with a lot of character,” he explained.

Hanwha signed proven free agent second baseman Ahn Chi-hong from Stoble League to form a dynamite center field of Ahn, Noh Si-hwan, and Chae Eun-sung. Add to that the veterans Kim Kang-min and Lee Jae-won, and you have a new structure that adds experience, one of the essential ingredients of a strong team. The synergy with the energetic young players, including Jung Eun-won, Moon Hyun-bin, Lee Do-yoon, and Lee Jin-young, was highly anticipated.

However, Hanwha’s goal was not to win the championship, but to qualify for the fall baseball season. The team had only three confirmed starters, including foreigners Felix Peña and Ricardo Sanchez, and Moon Dong-joo. In addition, Peña and Sanchez cannot be considered as Eric Pedigree, who dominated the league last year, and Moon Dong-ju was just coming out of the egg with eight wins last year. After them, Kim Min-woo, Kim Ki-jung, Lee Tae-yang, and Hwang Jun-seo were competing for the fourth and fifth spots, but to be honest, they were not the best to compete for the title.

Hanwha’s starting rotation was instantly transformed into a championship contender with the addition of Ryu Hyun-jin, who has 78 career wins in the major leagues. The addition of ace Ryu gives them a 안전놀이터 solid quartet of Peña, Sanchez, and Moon Dong-ju, giving them a lot of starting depth. Four pitchers – Kim Min-woo, Kim Ki-jung, Lee Tae-yang, and Hwang Jun-seo – are vying for the fifth spot.

“With the addition of Ahn Chi-hong this season, the whole team started camp with the goal of the postseason, and I was worried,” Choi admitted, explaining the Ryu effect by saying, “I think Ryu’s arrival in Okinawa will give the whole team, including myself, a chance to reach our goal with a little more confidence.”

Ryu is scheduled to open the exhibition games with his own blue-and-white game in Daejeon on April 7, followed by a game against KIA in Daejeon on April 12 and Lotte in Sasik on April 17. After a five-day break, the plan is to start the long-awaited opening game against LG on the 23rd. “I don’t think there will be much of a problem for him to start the opening game if he performs well according to the schedule,” Choi said.

Following Choi, captain Chae Eun-sung also made an appearance at the arrival gate and expressed her hopes for the Ryu Hyun-jin effect. “The team atmosphere has improved a lot since (Ryu) Hyun-jin’s arrival. I think it will get even better in the future,” she said, adding, “I think the players will gain a lot of confidence because one player has so much power.”

Last year’s Rookie of the Year Moon Dong-ju has already been mentored by Ryu Hyun-jin in camp and has asked for advice. “I haven’t asked him much in his room, but we’ve had a lot of situational conversations when I was playing the other day, and it’s been very helpful,” he said with a smile.

With a living legend in Ryu Hyun-jin, Hanhwa has changed his goals and is looking beyond fifth place.

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