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Interview with former White Sox, current Samsung Lions infielder Tyler Saladino

by Joe Binder

We continue our interview series with a man who needs no introduction, but we’re going to give one anyway.

Tyler Saladino was a 7th round draft pick of the White Sox in the 2010 MLB draft. For the next five seasons, he worked his way up the minors and battled through an injury that required Tommy John. On July 10, 2015, Saladino finally made his debut vs. the Cubs at home, the same team who he’d walk-off against the following year in arguably his most memorable moment on the South Side. Tyler has been a fan favorite wherever he’s played, from Chicago to Milwaukee and everywhere in between. This spring, he’s now found himself overseas in South Korea on a deal to play for the Samsung Lions. Given the current situation with COVID-19, the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) is the only source of live sports here in the United States and has seen its popularity spread like wildfire as of late.

We were fortunate enough to talk with Tyler and ask him some questions about the deal that brought him to South Korea, his experiences so far, adjustments he’s had to make along the way, and plenty more!

How did the opportunity to play for the Samsung Lions come about, and what attracted you to play in South Korea?

My agent was in touch with them once I became a free agent and I had a chance to meet up with them during the winter meetings. After that, they offered a contract and it was a guaranteed situation so I went for it.

Do you still keep in contact with any former teammates or coaches? If so, how did they react to this opportunity and what advice did they offer?

Yeah, I keep in touch with as many as possible. Eric Thames was my go to for this situation since he spent a few years out here and pretty much turned himself into a legend out here. He had great things to say and good advice. Little things about the difference in the game and cultural differences. It helped just to talk about things with him.

What has it been like adjusting to not only baseball, but life overseas? Have there been any challenges for you – such as adapting to a different language or new culture?

The adjustment took a few weeks for me. I’m used to Asian cultures, having a Japanese grandmother and growing up in a very diverse community in San Diego with a lot of Asian influence. So things like the food and way of life is not a whole lot different to me. It was more of the language barrier that made it difficult at first. Learning their style of baseball through a translator took a little extra time to figure things out. Also, words and baseball terms we use might not even exist in their language and vice versa. But spring training took care of all that stuff so we’re good to go now.

How do you typically spend your time before and after games? What are some of the most interesting cultural experiences you’ve had thus far?

Not a whole lot is different before and after here than it is back home. Wake up and go to the field, finish up and come back home. We don’t spend to much time out and about because of the risk involved with the coronavirus, even though things are pretty clear out here. We did eat with a teammate at a seafood market where you choose your fish/octopus/shellfish or whatever live downstairs and they prepare it and bring it upstairs for you to eat. That was definitely an interesting experience.

What’s one aspect of the game that you’ve found to be different than professional baseball here in America?

The biggest difference that I haven’t experienced yet because we still don’t have fans, but they don’t stop playing music and cheering and bangin drums and everything while the game is going on. They still play music right now though so it’s not like back home with a walk up song and that’s it. The music keeps on playing.

Are analytics used in the Korean League? If so, are they used as extensively as they are now in the baseball community?

Analytics are used but to what extent or how, I really don’t know. I try not to over do things out here. Sometimes translations are difficult and I’d rather just play my game.

ESPN recently announced a deal that would air KBO games six days a week. What are your thoughts on this, especially during a time with no major sports competition in the United States?

ESPN picking it up is awesome in so many ways. First and foremost, it provides hope for people back home and brings joy to all baseball fans. It also shows Korean baseball, which even without fans, has so many exciting things that are different. Like world class bat flips haha, which are perfectly ok because it’s part of the excitement and dramatics that make the games fun out here. Speaking of that we’ll be playing on ESPN today and tomorrow so check it out!

Now for some lighter questions, what’s one American food or just place in general you will miss the most while being in Korea?

I definitely miss San Diego and Mexican food.

Did you bring your dog Luna with you?

Unfortunately Luna and Hannah are both back home. But they’re safe and healthy so it’s alright. 

Finally, the most important question. Are there any team policies that will prevent you from keeping that incredible stache and flow combo you have going or will we be seeing that for the remainder of the season?

Hahaha nobody’s said anything so far so I think we’re in the clear!

On behalf of the entire Sox On 35th team, I’d like to thank Tyler for taking the time to answer some questions for us, especially during the middle of his season. We wish him nothing but the best, and look forward to following the Samsung Lions throughout 2020!

Be sure to follow us on social media @SoxOn35th for more!

Featured Photo: Chicago White Sox/Twitter

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