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If called, Cleveland's Choo unlikely to serve

As if Indians fans don't have enough to worry about, Shin-Soo Choo is supposed to spend a couple of years in the service of his country. And soon, too. Except it's exceptionally unlikely that he'll actually leave the club while he's still good enough to play ...

    Able-bodied South Korean men must serve two years in the military by the time they turn 30 years old. For the 27-year-old Choo, who turns 28 in July, that deadline is coming up quick.

    ChooChoo spent his entire life preparing to become a professional baseball player, and he refuses to walk away from the game at a point where he should be entering his prime. He is hoping to get clearance from the Indians to participate on the South Korean baseball team in the 2010 Asian Games, which take place in November. If he does, and his team wins a gold medal, Choo would receive an exemption from the South Korean government.

    But what if Choo doesn't get that clearance or the Korean team doesn't win the gold?

    Well, in that case, he would have to go to his backup plan. He's not divulging what that would be, because he knows people back home are hanging on his every word.

    It could be that Choo would pursue citizenship in the United States. Perhaps more likely is the possibility that he would simply not return to his native land and avoid the obligation.

    No matter how the situation shakes out, one thing that is certain is that Choo has no plans to miss the 2011 and '12 seasons.

I can't summon any moral outrage over Choo's stance. What would you do, if you were just reaching the peak of your profession and were faced with a legal obligation to leave your hard-earned position for two whole years, with no assurance that your job would be there upon your return? You probably would do exactly what Choo is doing.

In 1990, I was working for Bill James. It was the only job I'd ever really wanted, even before I knew it existed. I was also serving in the Kansas division of the Army National Guard. When the Gulf War broke out, there was a great deal of talk about National Guard units being activated for service overseas. That rarely happened, and didn't happen to my unit (though of course it would happen to many National Guard units in the next, bigger war).

I didn't want to leave my job, and I didn't want to kill people in Iraq. I think I would have done both if ordered, but only because I wouldn't have been able to figure any other way. Given Choo's options, though? I probably would say to myself, "This just isn't right. I've got a limited amount of time to make a name for myself in this business, and if I leave now I might never get another shot. They can win this one without me."

Of course, millions of young men might have said the same thing in 1943 or 1967. Most of them went anyway. Each of us is unique, though not as unique as we think. Shin-Soo Choo wouldn't be the first South Korean man to have his professional life rudely disrupted by compulsory military service.

If I were him, I wouldn't go back. I would play ball. But it's worth wondering what we might think of an American player who found himself in the same situation.