“Korea, I didn’t think it was my final career”…’44.6 billion jackpot’ KBO back-export myth
“When I was in Korea, I didn’t think of it as my final career.
As I said before, my final goal was to come back (to the major leagues).”
Merrill Kelly (35, Arizona Diamondbacks), the KBO’s reverse export myth, is always asked about his time in Korea at official press conferences.
Kelly spent four seasons with the SK Wyverns (now the SSG Landers) from 2015 to 2018 as part of a one-two punch with Kim Kwang-hyun (35).
In four seasons, he compiled a career record of 119 games, 48-32, 729⅔ innings, 641 strikeouts, and a 3.86 ERA.
Kelly has been playing for Arizona in the American Major League Baseball since 2019 after being recognized for his career in South Korea, and five years after leaving South Korea, he still has a strong image in the United States as a “KBO player.
During a press conference ahead of Game 5 of the Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies on April 22 (KST), Kelly was asked, “When you were playing in Korea, did you dream of starting a big league postseason game, or was it too far away to even imagine?
Kelly replied, “I dreamed about it every day. When I went to Korea, my end goal, as I’ve said before, was to come back to the States one day.
When I was in Korea, the thought of ‘you’re done here’ was never in the back of my mind.
I viewed my time in Korea as a career until the near future (the moment I returned to the major leagues).
I didn’t accept it as the end of my career,” he said emphatically.
“I had aspirations of sitting here in this interview room and talking to you (reporters), and it was my daily routine to dream about this.
In Korea, major league games are played early in the morning, when it’s time to wake up.
So when I woke up in the morning, I checked the game.
First, I checked to see how players and friends I knew were doing in the big leagues, and then I paid attention to teams that I thought could give me a chance and that I could contribute to when I returned to the U.S. someday.
There wasn’t a single day that I thought I wasn’t going to play in the major leagues while I was in Korea.”
It’s safe to say that living in Korea changed his baseball life. Kelly had never played in the major leagues before taking on a new challenge in Korea.
At the tender age of 26, Kelly decided to take a chance on the KBO and make a career change, and it paid off.
After watching his performance with SK, Arizona offered him a two-year, $5.5 million contract and a chance to make his major league debut ahead of the 2019 season.
In Arizona, Kelly quickly earned a spot in the starting rotation and began to write his own KBO story.
Through five seasons and 127 starts, Kelly has compiled a 48-43 record, 750⅔ innings pitched, 681 strikeouts, and a 3.80 ERA as a No. 2 starter. 먹튀검증
His success began in 2019, when he won 12 games in the first year of his contract, and he has been a steady mainstay in Arizona’s starting lineup, winning 13 games last year and 12 this year.
Naturally, Arizona has consistently rewarded Kelly for his play.
Kelly received $33 million guaranteed over six years, from 2019 to 2024. Prior to the 2019 season, he signed a two-year, $5.5 million contract with Arizona, with $4.25 million team options for 2021 and $5.25 million for 2022.
Arizona offered him a two-year extension prior to the 2022 season.
His signing bonus is $1 million, and his salary in 2023 and 2024 is $8 million.
There is a $7 million club option for 2025, and if the club declines to exercise the option, Kelly receives $1 million in buyouts.
Arizona finished fall baseball as the No. 6 seed in the National League this year and made a surprise run to the Championship Series, beating the 92-win Milwaukee Brewers and the 100-win Los Angeles Dodgers.
They won the best-of-five series, taking two games against Milwaukee in the wild-card game and three games against the Dodgers in the Division Series.
Kelly has been a mainstay on the mound for Arizona.
In two postseason starts this year, he went 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in 12 innings pitched.
In his postseason debut, he tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings in Game 1 of the wild-card deciding series against the Dodgers on April 8, leading Arizona to an 11-2 victory.
However, he struggled against the Philadelphia Phillies in the Championship Series.
On April 18, he took the loss in Game 2 of the Championship Series against the Phillies, allowing four runs in 5⅔ innings.
Arizona fell to 0-10 in the series.
After dropping Games 1 and 2 on the road in Philadelphia, the A’s rebounded to take Games 3 and 4 at home to even the series at 2-2.
They carried that momentum into Game 5 on April 22, where they were hit by a barrage of home runs from Phillies sluggers Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, and JT Realmuto in a 1-6 loss.
Arizona is now one loss away from elimination.
With Arizona’s World Series fate on his shoulders, Kelly will take the mound for Game 6 on Thursday at home in Philadelphia.
He’s already pitched in Game 2, so he’ll be acclimated to the cheers of the Phillies’ home fans.
With the pressure of one loss and elimination off his shoulders, he needs to focus on throwing his pitches.
“I just go out there and pitch like I’m trying to get to the World Series,” Kelly said.
I don’t care if it’s in Philadelphia or the moon. As long as I’m pitching well, I don’t think it matters.
If I’m pitching well enough to get us to the World Series, that’s where my heart is.
It doesn’t matter where I am,” he said, vowing to do his best to help his team win, regardless of the venue.