Dean endears new fans in South Korea

Former Naugatuck High School star pitcher Pat Dean is in his first season with the Kia Tigers of the Korean Baseball League in Gwangju, South Korea. –CONTRIBUTED

Naugatuck native Pat Dean has quite a fan club some 8,600 miles from his hometown.

Dean, the 28-year-old left-hander and a third round pick of the Minnesota Twins in 2010, is in his first season playing baseball outside the United States as a member of the Kia Tigers of the Korean Baseball League in Gwangju, South Korea. The former Naugatuck High star has gathered a large following in his first year pitching overseas.

“The fans here are incredibly supportive,” Dean said. “Even after a tough start, they are cheering for you and letting you know they believe in you. This is definitely an environment I have never experienced before, and the love these fans have for their team makes playing in front of them that much more special.”

Dean got a visit from his home fan base when his wife, Katie, came out to see him on breaks from school in February and April. His parents, Greg and Lisa, and younger brother, John, made the trip to help Pat celebrate his birthday at the end of May.

“Katie really enjoyed her time out here,” Dean said. “She will actually be coming back in a week or so to spend the rest of the summer out here. Having her here is definitely going to make this a more enjoyable experience and really help get through the grind of the long baseball season.”

The Deans were in attendance when Pat threw six innings of seven-hit, two-run ball on May 23, just days before his birthday, and picked up the win against the Hanwha Eagles.

The Kia Tigers are an exciting team this season and showed that a few days after Dean’s birthday when Choi Won-joon belted a walk-off grand slam. Through Tuesday, the Tigers were in first place at 43-24.

“It has been great playing for Kia this year,” Dean said. “We have some guys who can really play some baseball. Our lineup is tops in the league, so it makes it easier to pitch knowing they can support you scoring runs.”

Dean has been given two gloves with his name on it written in the Hangul language. A red one given to him by teammate Lee Bum Ho and a blue one.

“My teammates have been amazing,” Dean said. “As far as welcoming me and making me feel like part of the team. They have all gone out of their way, in one way or another, to make me feel comfortable.”

Dean’s family visited him right in the middle of a successful streak where Dean allowed three runs twice, two runs three times and one run in another start.

“I was happy to be able to show them what life has been like over here,” Dean said. “Each team’s fans have a song they sing for each batter on the home team. I think my parents really enjoyed that part. I really think my brother embraced and enjoyed the trip the most.

“I get together quite often with some of my teammates to play golf. The courses are very challenging over here, but my game is coming along on the narrow fairways.”

Dean was 4-4 on the season in 13 starts with a 4.37 ERA through Tuesday. He is enjoying the Korean fans and his time with the Tigers, but Dean still keeps up with his former MLB teammates.

“I do keep in touch with a core of Twins players I went through the system with,” Dean said. “These are guys that I will have a relationship with for the rest of my life.”