Orioles' Hyun Soo Kim admits to jitters in Grapefruit League debut

Batting fifth and starting in left field for the Orioles on Tuesday, Korean import Hyun Soo Kim went 0-for-3 in his first game action in the United States. Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- First came "Welcome to the Jungle." Next, it was "Under Pressure."

Based on the music that was blaring over the Champion Stadium sound system before Tuesday's game between the Atlanta Braves and the visiting Baltimore Orioles, you'd think it was the World Series. Instead, it was simply the opener of the exhibition season. Then again, maybe the music was targeted at Hyun Soo Kim.

Since signing with the Orioles two days before Christmas, there has been plenty of curiosity about how Kim -- who posted an eye-popping .406 on-base percentage during his 10 pro seasons in Korea -- would fare on this side of the Pacific. About how he'll handle the pressure of playing in the big leagues, the expectations that come with following in the footsteps of countryman Jung Ho Kang, who finished third in last year's NL Rookie of the Year voting.

"The guy's played on a lot of big stages," said O's skipper Buck Showalter about Kim before Tuesday's game. "We think here in America, we've got this corner on all this stuff. But in Korea, if you win, you don't have to do military service. That's a big deal. He's done it three times now. That's pressure."

Playing under sunny 74-degree skies, in front of 4,700 fans, with Disney World just a Chris Davis moonshot away? Not so much.

Of course it doesn't hurt that he's in a clubhouse known for being one of the loosest in baseball. Just last week at the team's spring training headquarters in Sarasota, the Birds treated Kim to a traditional Korean Bibimbap lunch, complete with All-Star Adam Jones handling the table service, apron and all.

"It's been a pretty seamless fit-in, which is a real tribute to our players. I like the fact that he laughs easily," said Showalter about Kim, who last year with the Doosan Bears slashed .326/.438/.541, and appeared in all but three games. "I like the fact that he plays games, walks a lot. Everybody's got some curiosity [about] whether it's going to play out over here. It's gonna be fun to watch."

As for Tuesday, watching Kim was relatively ho-hum. Batting fifth and starting in left field, the 28-year old lefty swinger went 0-for-3 at the plate, with two fly outs and a groundout. In the field, he handled his only chance, a line drive off the bat of Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski. After the game, Kim admitted that, despite it being only spring training, he was a little jittery.

"I was nervous a bit," said Kim through interpreter Danny Lee. Wearing a navy Under Armour v-neck and rust-colored dock shoes, and with a spicy chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A sitting next to him in his locker, Kim seemed like someone who's adapting just fine to the cultural side of playing in the States. As for the baseball side, he knows he has a ways to go. "At the plate, I was thinking about what the pitchers were doing, and I wasn't able to really perform at my best. I'll try to do my best and perform like I have in the past."

The good news is Showalter plans on giving Kim, who was the only projected starter in Tuesday's lineup, plenty of time to adjust.

"We were talking before the game about how long spring training is [in Korea]," Showalter said. "It starts in January and goes almost three months."

Given that, and given the potentially jarring nature of Kim's transition, the Birds' boss says he plans on getting him as many reps as possible, starting with getting him right back in the lineup for Wednesday's home opener against the Braves. "He's going to get a lot of time to make the adjustment and today it starts."

As far as Kim is concerned, that's music to his ears.

"I'm very excited that they are giving me an opportunity to play in a lot of spring training games," Kim said. "Whatever I'm lacking right now will be adjusted throughout the games."