Naugatuck native and professional baseball pitcher Pat Dean is settling into his new summer home in Gwangju, South Korea.
The former third-round draft choice of the Minnesota Twins signed a one-year $900,000 contract as a free agent in November to play for the Kia Tigers of the Korean Baseball Organization.
The team assigned Dean an interpreter, but the language of baseball is universal. According to the left-hander, he couldn’t be happier in his new surroundings.
“So far everything has been great,” Dean said. “My teammates have been really welcoming, and the coaching staff has been very accommodating. As far as life outside of baseball, I’m loving it over here.”
The team set Dean up in an apartment a short distance from the field. His wife, Katie, will be visiting during her spring break and then will join him when school gets out for the summer. The rest of the family will be out for a visit sometime over the summer, he said.
“My teammates have made me feel right at home,” Dean said. “There are a lot of restaurants where I live, and I have been trying a lot of new foods and exploring my new surroundings.”
The 27-year-old Dean made his Major League debut for the Twins last May. He spent last season between Triple-A Rochester and Minnesota, pitching 19 games in the big leagues. During seven Minor League seasons, Dean posted a 51-57 record with an ERA of 4.12 in 154 games.
The Twins designated Dean back to Triple-A in October, and he became a free agent.
The Korean Baseball Organization began signing foreign players in 1998. The Kia Tigers, established in 1982, is the most successful franchise in Korea with 10 national championships, the last coming in 2009.
“Baseball is baseball no matter what country you are in. You still need to throw strikes and figure out ways to get batters out, that doesn’t change,” Dean said. “This is a game of adjustments and constant reflection.
“I feel I have come a long way over the course of my career and I’m excited about this new opportunity. I know there is a lot more I’m capable of, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself and just enjoy this experience.”
So far Dean has been making all the right adjustments. The Kia Tigers were 2-4 in spring training as of Tuesday, and Dean had pitched twice. In 7 and 1/3 innings, Dean allowed three hits, two earned runs and struck out five batters.
The Tigers took on the Doonsan Bears, last year’s champions, March 14 in the spring training opener. Dean was the starting pitcher and allowed one hit with three strikeouts in three innings.
“I’m continually working on cleaning up my mechanics,” Dean said. “I feel great about where I am physically.
“My agent has told me that an experience like this could open up a lot of doors. A lot of guys who have played here have gone back to the Majors and done well. I’m not thinking about any of that right now. I’m just enjoying the moment and going out to do my best and let next season take care of itself.”
Dean added, “Pitching well here could lead back to the states, it could lead to signing on for another year here in Korea. Wherever it leads I’m not concerned with right now. I’m just excited about this new opportunity and enjoying my new surroundings and my new teammates.”