The NC Dinos ended the first half of the season by reversing their slump. In addition, center fielder Park Gun-woo (33), who had become distant from his manager, raised the possibility of his return through the All-Star Game.

NC finished the first half in fourth place overall with 39 wins, 38 losses and one tie in 78 games before the All-Star break, a winning percentage of 0.506. There were many twists and turns, but the team finished the first half on a high note with two straight series wins.

It was nothing short of a miracle. Heading into the season, NC was rated as a bottom-tier team after missing out on internal free agents such as Yang Ji (36-Dusan Bears) and Noh Jin-hyuk (34-NC Dinos). In addition, the team had a tough time during the season, losing a number of starters to injuries, including Koo Chang-mo (26), Lee Jae-hak (33), and Choi Sung-young (26).

Nonetheless, NC jumped to the top three with a winning percentage of over 5 percent (0.529) through June. However, after losing five straight games against the Changwon LG Electronics on June 21, the team suffered another five-game losing streak in early July. In particular, in a series against the last-place Samsung Lions at home on July 8-9, the team failed to score a single point in the entire two-game series and suffered a sweep (Game 1 was rained out), breaking the five-percent winning percentage.

In the meantime, the team had an internal issue: Park Gun-woo, who had been playing in the center field, was suddenly demoted to the second team on the last three days. It wasn’t an injury, a slump, or any other incident that raised questions. The next day, Kang In-hwa, 51, said, “A senior player needs not only skill but also virtue. When I became the head coach, I wanted the senior players in my team not to deviate from the One-Team. In that sense, I was very disappointed in Park Gun-woo and felt that I needed time to think about it.” He revealed the reason for the expungement.

Park requested to be substituted in the eighth inning of the Suwon KT game on April 2 to control his physical condition. The game was a close one, so it was a big disappointment. Ahead of the game against Gochuk Kiwoom on the 4th, Kang admitted that “Sunday (the 2nd) was probably the decisive day,” but said, “As a manager, it’s not about taming players or disciplining the team. I wanted to give a message that we shouldn’t deviate from the principles that I have always had.”

Park was batting .286 with seven home runs, 41 RBIs, six doubles and an OPS of .816 in 69 games in the first half of the season. He was coming off an early-season slump and was starting to find his groove. He was even the team’s home run leader at the time of his termination. He was important to the team, but that didn’t stop his manager from wanting him back.

“I didn’t meet with the player (after the first team was expunged),” Kang said, raising concerns that the rift was deep. “I hope it doesn’t get blown out of proportion,” Kang evolved, saying, “There is no such thing as reflection. I don’t want to make a big deal out of it,” he said.

The awkward atmosphere turned into a “thawing mood” at the All-Star Game. Park Gun-woo, who was selected as one of the Dream All-Stars’ Best 12, said before the game, “I met with the coach earlier and talked to him.” According to a club official, Park Gun-woo and coach Kang Myung-hyun had a conversation at Samsung Electronics in Changwon on the 7th (rained out). “There is nothing to say because it was a conversation with the coach,” he said, but it was clear that something had changed.

Park had a dark look on his face during pregame events and even when he entered the field, but during the game, he seemed to regain his smile. In the bottom of the first inning, after the second out, Park Gun-woo singled to left field and made a fist gesture with Coach Kang, who was out as the first base coach. Coach Kang also greeted Park with applause. Park then turned 90 degrees toward Kang, who was receiving his protective gear. The two shared a faint smile.

Sharing All-Star Park Gun-woo (left) gives a 90-degree bow to first base coach Kang Myung-ho (NC) after hitting a single in the first inning of the 2023 KBO All-Star Game at Sajik Baseball Stadium in Busan on Friday.메이저놀이터

Sharing All-Star Park Gun-woo (right) bows 90 degrees to deliver equipment to first base coach Kang Myung-ho (NC) after hitting a single in the first inning of the 2023 KBO All-Star Game at Sajik Baseball Stadium in Busan on Friday.
Park Gun-woo, who came through with a hit in the fourth inning, was once again applauded by Kang. It was a sign that the distance between the two had narrowed somewhat.

It seems that Park’s quick return to the team, which seemed to be in doubt, is possible. He was already eligible for the first team on the 13th, but Kang decided to finish the first half without him. In their last series against Lotte, NC scored a whopping 24 runs in two games to lift their slumping batting. With Park in the lineup, the team could once again replicate its early-season form.

“I’m being briefed on (Park) by the Futures coaches,” Kang said on Nov. 11. At the time, he said, “I’m getting reports on his attitude in training,” adding, “It’s important to know what kind of mindset he’s playing with and whether he’s sticking to practice. We are checking that,” he said, explaining the call-up criteria.

The NC First Team will begin training on the 16th, the day after the All-Star Game. It was unclear whether Park would even join the first team during the All-Star break, but in this atmosphere, it is not impossible for him to participate in training and be called up early in the second half.

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