Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Choi returns to action after collision at Wrigley

Cubs 1st baseman doubles in first minor-league start

By Randy Peterson
Des Moines Register

DES MOINES, Iowa - The self-described luckiest guy in two countries was back at it, just more than two weeks after falling to the hard Wrigley Field surface and waking up in a hospital.

There he was, Hee Seop Choi, back at first base and batting fourth. But this time, it was for the Iowa Cubs. He's playing in the minors for a few days as he continues to clear the cobwebs from his once aching head.

"I feel great again," Choi said Monday night. "I'm the luckiest guy in the United States. Korea, too."

The guy Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker calls "Big Choi" started a rehabilitation assignment during Monday's 8-1 loss to Oklahoma in front of 7,237 at Sec Taylor Stadium.

He grounded out to second in his first at-bat, doubled in the fourth inning, and exited the game after the fifth.

"Everything is good," Choi said. "Two more games - maybe."

He fielded ground balls without a problem before the game. He boomed a few over the fence during batting practice. He hopes to be with the Cubs later this week, possibly Thursday at home against Milwaukee.

His systems finally are nearing "go" after scaring people from the United States to Korea.

On June 7, a sunny afternoon in Chicago, Jason Giambi of the Yankees hit a high fly in the infield. Everyone saw it; no one called it.

"The catcher, pitcher, shortstop, third baseman and I were watching it - everybody - but nobody said anything," Choi said. "I went to catch it and ran into (Cubs pitcher) Kerry Wood."

The back of Choi's head landed on the dirt baseline between third and home. He was unconscious and the standing-room-only crowd at Wrigley Field was silent for 17 minutes before a fire department rescue unit took him to Illinois Masonic Medical Center.

"I didn't remember anything until the next day," Choi said. "The first thing I asked the doctor was: "How was Woody?" The doctor said Woody's still ugly. That made me laugh."

What happened wasn't such a laughing matter back in Chun-Nam, Korea, where he is a folk hero for becoming the country's first non-pitcher to play in the major leagues.

"My parents - they saw it on TV in Korea at 2 in the morning," Choi said. "Scary."

Scary for Choi, too.

"When I saw replay on TV ... very scary," Choi said. "I wasn't moving."

Well-wishers not only included his teammates but South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.

"He e-mailed," Choi said. "He was worried about me. He watches the games. He told me to get back as soon as possible."

Choi, a rookie, was batting .244 with seven homers and 22 runs batted in at the time of the incident. Eric Karros, the Cubs' other first baseman, has seven homers and a .298 average.

They shared the position before the injury, and that's the way it will remain when Choi returns.

"Left-handed pitcher - Eric Karros plays," Choi said. "Right-handed pitcher - me."

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