“Driver, we eat beef.”
It’s a scene that has permeated not only Korean baseball, but also the country’s culture of warm hospitality. Kiwoom Heroes foreign pitcher Ariel Hurtado, 27, made a warm and unfamiliar offer that even veteran drivers who have been driving the Heroes’ team bus for more than a decade have never encountered.
Hurtado, a native of Panama, joined Kiwoom ahead of this season after playing for the Texas Rangers and New York Mets in Major League Baseball, signing a contract totaling $1 million (approximately KRW 1.3 billion). Since spring training, the reviews have been favorable. On the mound, he was the only player on the team to draw a walk in a simulated game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, and in the clubhouse, he was a shy freshman who quietly approached his teammates, memorizing their numbers and names.
His calm demeanor throughout his career has served him well in the regular season. With seven quality starts (tied for second in the league), he went 3-6 in 10 games with a 2.97 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 60⅔ innings. Unfortunately, his poor run support (fifth in the league) has made him the league’s worst pitcher despite his good numbers. On the 26th, he suffered his sixth loss of the season despite posting a 7-inning, 2-run Quality Start Plus (7+ innings, 3 earned runs or less) against Gocheok Lotte.
However, he didn’t seem to mind. “It was a bad outcome, but that’s part of baseball. It was a positive thing that I was able to close out the innings quickly and go a lot of innings,” he said. “They said they felt sorry for me. But that’s okay because baseball is a team sport and winning is out of my control. I was just grateful that I didn’t make any mistakes that day,” he said in defense of his teammates who have been struggling lately.
His warmth is not limited to the team. During last weekend’s trip to Gwangju, Hurado served beef to the three drivers of the team’s bus, who were joined by interpreter Lee Jo-il and Lee Myung-jong, 21. The cheerful Lee Myung-jong is said to have a great chemistry with the quieter Furado. Furado is also a self-proclaimed best friend who confidently says, “My man, Manito.”
The interviewees, Oh Byung-ho (coach and club officials) and Ahn Sang-jin (pitchers), are veteran bus drivers who have been working for more than 10 years. But it was the first time for Oh, who joined the team in 2010, and Ahn, who joined in 2013, to have a separate table for foreign players.
“I had heard from an interpreter that Furado sometimes serves meals to the bullpen catchers,” Oh said. But it was during the Daegu trip in early May that Furado first mentioned that he wanted to eat with us. We thanked him verbally, but then he actually called us from Gwangju (the next trip to the provinces) and asked us if we wanted to go on Saturday (May 20). It was the interpreter’s idea, but Furado made the first offer.” 안전놀이터
They didn’t have a deep conversation because they couldn’t understand each other, but it was enough. “We’ve been doing this for more than 10 years, but we’ve never had a foreign athlete ask to eat with us,” they said. “We didn’t have a lot of conversation, but they were receptive to our jokes and the atmosphere was good, and he really liked the beef and beer,” they smiled. “It helps our job to know the atmosphere of the team. But it’s true that it’s not always easy to reach out to the players because we’re older and in different areas, so Furado’s gesture is appreciated and very helpful. Naturally, we want him to stay healthy and do well.”