With any new experience there are lessons to be learned and challenges to face.
Naugatuck native Pat Dean is preparing for yet another new experience — trying to defend a Korean Baseball Organization championship.
Dean, a former Naugatuck Greyhound and 2010 third-round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins, spent seven years toiling on the hill in the Minor League before reaching the Major League in 2016. Dean appeared in 19 games for the Twins with nine starts and posted a 6.28 ERA.
In 2017, the lanky left-hander began a new journey. He signed with the Kia Tigers of the KBO and packed his bags for Gwangju, South Korea.
Dean went 9-7 with a 4.14 ERA and 143 strikeouts to 39 walks in his first year with the club and helped the Tigers when the KBO championship — the team’s first since 2009.
At almost every turn there were new experiences, like eating silkworm soup and shaking hands with South Korea President Moon Jae-In right before the league championship series.
In December, Dean re-signed with the club on another one-year, $925,000 contract.
“I’m going into this season like any other,” Dean said. “Trying to prepare myself mentally and physically for the long grind. Last season was amazing and we had a lot of success. We know going into this season there will be a target on our back. If we play the way we are capable of we can make another strong run.”
Dean got off to a fast, 3-1 start last season before hitting a tough stretch. By the All-Star break Dean was 5-5 in 17 starts with a 4.88 ERA.
“Last year I hit a rough patch of about four or five games and started to lose a little bit of confidence,” Dean said. “I was overthinking things a bit. It’s easier said than done, but this year I just want to keep things as simple as possible and not let it get into my head.”
Being so far from home in a new environment may have created a loss of focus at times, but family visits helped him to get back on track.
Dean’s wife Kate, a school teacher in New Jersey, came out for her spring vacation and spent the summer with him after she got out of school. His parents, Greg and Lisa, along with his brother John made the trek to South Korea to help Dean celebrate his 28th birthday.
Just days before his birthday, and with his family in the stands, Dean delivered an inspiring performance by going six innings and surrendering just two runs to get the win.
Dean shinned during a pennant race down the stretch of the season, going 4-2 with a 3.18 ERA. He helped the team secure first place by two games and a bye into the championship series.
The KBO championship series was tied at one game apiece when Dean took the mound in game three. Dean went seven innings and gave up just three runs in a 6-3 win.
Kia won the next two games to wrap up the championship 4-1 over two-time defending champion Doosan Bears.
“I was pretty happy the way things went overall,” Dean said. “I felt I had a good showing for my first year in the KBO. The fans are really passionate about the game and the love of their teams.”
The Tigers are off to a 4-1 start in spring training this season. Dean went four innings and allowed three hits and struck out eight March 16 in a spring training start.
The regular season opens on Saturday when the Tigers host KT Wiz. Dean is slated to pitch the third game of the season on March 27 on the road versus the Samsung Lions.
“This year there will be no adjustment period,” Dean said. “I know what to expect and I’ve gotten to know my teammates and formed a lot of great relationships.”