Shane Youman got an up-close and personal view of the kind of fervor residents of the Dominican Republic reserve for their national sport, baseball, this winter when he was named the Pitcher of the Year in the Dominican Winter League.
The 32-year-old New Iberia Senior High graduate will experience a different, if equally fervent, following on the opposite side of the globe when he joins the Lotte Giants of the Korean Professional Baseball League this spring. Youman, who also pitched for LSU’s 2000 College World Series championship team, plans to leave for Korea on Jan. 30.
“I’ve heard good things (about the Giants),” said the 6-foot-4 left-hander. “It’s in a big city (Busan), probably the second biggest city in South Korea. The fans are crazy about baseball. I think it’s almost the same as the Dominican Republic.”
Youman, who pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates major league team in 2006-07, has plenty of experience pitching abroad already. In addition to pitching in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Venezuela, Youman spent time in 2011 with the Lamigo Monkeys in Taiwan after his contract was purchased by the team from the Long Island (New York) Ducks in the fall.
“That put me on the radar of other Asian leagues,” said Youman, adding that his time in the Dominican Winter League also got him attention. Youman went 5-1 with a league-best 0.88 earned run average in the winter league, facing a number of players with minor and major league experience. He started seven games, going 41 innings and allowing only one home run and four earned runs in that span with 30 hits allowed, 10 walks and 30 strikeouts.
With the help of James Gamble of Global Scouting Bureau, Youman said he turned that attention into a contract with the Lotte Giants.
“I exceeded my expectations,” said Youman. “On every (Dominican) team there’s at least two to three guys who’ve been in the major leagues or who are on the verge of being in the major leagues.”
He also got to see a variety of baseball styles, from slugging teams to small-ball squads, which kept him sharp.
“Each team had its own identity,” said Youman of the Dominican league. “It made you have to work even harder. To be Pitcher of the Year in the Dominican Republic is a feat I never would’ve dreamed would happen.
“I can’t say enough about how they love the game, and how they revere the game.”
Taiwan was a bit of an eye-opener culturally, he said. He expects his Korean experience to be similar, though the baseball players are a notch above, perhaps only a bit below the Japanese pro baseball level. Korean teams are the third-highest paying in the world, behind Major League Baseball and Japan.
As for the baseball, the Korean leagues take a more scientific approach than in the U.S., Youman said, breaking down games more than American coaches and scouts do.
“I know the competition will be a little tougher (than Taiwan),” said Youman. “The hitters are a little more disciplined.”
Expectations are high, also.
“The biggest thing for them is they want to win games,” said Youman.
“It should make it a great experience. Games start probably mid to late March. Their spring training is about a two-month process. They work hard. It’s like working a 9-to-5 day in spring training.”