SEOUL, Mar 21 (Yonhap) – Kia Tiger pitcher Aaron Brooks struggled to recover after his young family recovered from a serious car accident in the United States last fall while playing baseball in South Korea.
The right-handed man was in the middle of an outstanding first year with the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) in late September when his wife Whitney and two young children, Westin and Monroe, were injured in the accident. Brooks immediately returned home to take care of his family, and in the days that followed, as prayers and congratulations came in from fans and across the KBO, baseball remained low on the pitcher’s list of priorities.
Brooks was not able to sit down until his family was feeling better.
“Early on, when I was home, it was difficult for me to get back to the gym and get motivated to get going because all I really cared about was family,” Brooks told Yonhap News Agency in a phone interview last Wednesday. “But at the end of the day, when I knew they were mostly fine, I knew I had a job to do. And as long as my body lets me keep playing, I want to keep playing. So I knew I was back in Form had to come and throw again. “
Whitney, Monroe, and Westin are now healthy enough to have joined Aaron for at least the early part of the 2021 season, which begins April 3. Westin suffered the most serious injury of the three, and Brooks said he had received enough treatment and care while in the US he doesn’t need any additional checkups or special care in Korea.
Brooks can now focus on building on last year’s success. September was also his best month in 2020 as he was 4-0 with a 0.95 ERA in 28 1/3 innings while hitting 28 and walking two. He finished the year 11: 4 and finished third in the KBO with 2.50 ERA.
Despite missing out on the final month of the season, Brooks still finished third among all pitchers in wins over replacements (WAR) at 6.31.
The Tigers wasted little time bringing Brooks back when they signed him to a new contract on November 19, before the end of the postseason. Brooks said the decision to leave the US for Korea for a second season became easier once it became clearer that his family could make the trip with him.
He also wanted to return to his fans to show their support during some of the most difficult moments of his life.
“Once we calmed down somehow and figured it all out, it was much easier for us to say, I think I owe it not only to myself to come back here and perform again, but also to the fans.” Said Brooks. “Everyone in Korea was so supportive and had our backs. We really went through everything, all the support we had.”
Brooks said he would stick to the same approach by “just hitting the strike zone”.
“I’m not a big scabber and I rely on my location and my movement to get the boys out,” said Brooks, who scored 130 hits in 151 1/3 innings last year. “If I do that, I’ll get more innings and (help me) get deeper into the game. I just want to throw as much as I can to help us get into the playoffs.”
The Tigers will need Brooks to repeat last year’s performance, or even better, as they will be without their longtime ace Yang Hyeon-jong this year. The glasses-fitted left-hander signed a minor league deal with the Texas Rangers last month and is looking to crack the big leagues list in Arizona spring training session.
Not only have the tigers lost a good pitcher; Yang had been a respected clubhouse leader, someone young pitchers had asked for advice. And now those same young pitchers are approaching 30-year-old Brooks for tips and words of wisdom. He carries a certain seal of approval as a former Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher.
“I know they all looked up to Yang and me after what I saw. So I feel like I almost got into that role of trying to be a leader,” said Brooks . “I’m usually a role model. I’m not too talkative. But I’m just trying to run the business and let the younger people know how to do things right and maybe how to do things wrong. And I try to be super open be. “
Brooks has built a strong relationship with 20-year-old right-handed Kim Hyeon-su, who has referred to the American ace as his mentor. Brooks said Kim “pecked my brain trying to learn new things” every day.
“He really respects me just because I’ve been in the big leagues and I think that’s something a lot of these guys take to heart,” said Brooks. “They know that I know what it takes to reach the highest level in the world and I think they take it super, super personally and take everything I say.”
Brooks said he was trying to keep an eye on Yang’s spring practice and had that advice for his former teammate.
“The ball is a lot tougher so they go a lot farther (in MLB) so I would say just hold the ball down and throw punches,” Brooks said. “From what I’ve seen, it’s a lot easier for them to hit no matter where I serve. If he can hit the zone and advance, he has great things and he knows how to be unlucky. As long as he’s in the Zone is I think he’ll do fine. “
And Brooks would be wise to keep that in mind for himself when taking on a certain ex-major league hitter in the KBO this year.
Choo Shin-soo signed with SSG Landers last month after 16 years in the major leagues with four clubs. The 38-year-old veteran, one of the most successful Asian players in MLB history, was 5-2 with a strikeout against Brooks in their big-division duels.
Brooks said he would take up the challenge.
“He’s obviously a great batsman. He’s been in the big leagues a long time. He knows how to make things work for him and he knows how to hit,” said Brooks. “I think it would be fun. Ultimately, it’s the pitchers who throw the ball and if we’re scared to face someone or if we’re scared of throwing a ball in a certain place, I think we have already beaten us. I love the challenge and look forward to seeing him out there. “