Choo places hopes on Asian Games

Choo places hopes on Asian Games

CLEVELAND -- Much has been made about Shin-Soo Choo's two-year obligation to his native South Korea's military and how it might impact his baseball career.

But as expected, Choo will be using his baseball career to try to avoid that obligation.

Choo has been named to South Korea's final 24-man roster for November's Asian Games, in which more than just national pride will be on the line for the Indians outfielder. If Choo's team is able to capture the gold medal in the Games, which take place in China in November, then Choo would likely receive an exemption from the South Korean military.

All able-bodied South Korean men are required to serve two years in the military by the end of their 30th year. Choo turned 28 in July, so his clock is ticking. He has made it clear he has no intention of giving up two years of his baseball prime to fulfill the obligation. A last-ditch option would be to simply not return to South Korea and begin the process of becoming an American citizen. But Choo, who resides in Buckeye, Ariz., views the Asian Games as the most logical solution to his predicament.

More than anything, though, he said he is proud to represent his country.

"My first thing is that I'm playing for my country as best as I can," Choo said. "If we play good, maybe we'll win. ... That's my first goal. Then the next thing would be my military obligation. But it's not the first thing I'm trying for. I'm playing for Korea."

The Indians fully endorse Choo's decision to participate in the Asian Games, provided he makes it through the remainder of the 2010 season healthy.

"As always, with international competition, we leave the decision up to the player," assistant general manager Chris Antonetti said. "In Choo's case, he certainly wants to represent his country. Provided there's not an injury or a workload concern, we are always in support of international competition."

The South Korean roster, which was selected by manager Beom-Hyun Cho and a panel of committee members, is composed almost entirely of players from the Korean professional ranks. Choo and Tae-Kyun Kim of the Japanese Pacific League were the only players selected from overseas clubs.

Eleven teams will compete in the baseball event at the Asian Games, with South Korea, Taiwan and Japan the early favorites to medal. Japan is expected to field an all-amateur squad, which could help South Korea's chances of winning the gold.

"We assembled the best team possible, with the goal of winning the gold medal," Cho told reporters in Korea.

In the last Asian Games in 2006, Chinese Taipei won the gold, Japan the silver and South Korea the bronze. South Korea won the gold in both 1998 and 2002.

Choo missed out on a chance to earn an exemption when the South Koreans won the gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Major League players are precluded from participating in the Olympics.

But the timing of the Asian Games jibes perfectly with Choo's schedule. The South Korean national team will begin training Oct. 25 and depart for Guangzhou, China, on Nov. 10. The tournament will run from Nov. 12-27.

When Choo sprained his right thumb while diving for a ball in a July 2 game against the A's, it appeared surgery would be necessary, and his Asian Games candidacy might be affected. But Choo was able to recover from the injury without going under the knife, and he has remained the Indians' most consistent offensive player. He is batting .293 with 16 homers, 70 RBIs and an .870 OPS.

From the time they acquired Choo from the Mariners in a 2006 trade, the Indians have never shown much concern about Choo's military obligation to his native land. A gold medal in the Asian Games would finally put an end to the topic.

"It would be," Antonetti said, "the ideal scenario."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. He blogs about baseball at CastroTurf. Follow @castrovince on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.