This was the first time that a KBO team trained at one of MLB's Urban Youth Academies. A number of Korean teams regularly hold portions of spring camp in Arizona at facilities used by Major League clubs, but the NC Dinos plan to return to the Compton UYA in 2016.
After spending a month in Tucson, Ariz., focusing on strength and conditioning, the NC Dinos arrived in Southern California on Feb. 16 and gradually settled into their new surroundings. As with any change of scenery, there was some initial uncertainty, but in the end, it was a positive experience complete with some of the comforts of home.
"It's a new environment, and they were excited," said JD Kim, manager of baseball operations for the NC Dinos. "There's a strong Asian community out here so the players have been going out to Koreatown and eating Korean food, something they were kind of missing in Tucson. I think we enjoyed it.
The NC Dinos have embraced doing things a bit differently since joining the Korean Professional Baseball League in 2013.
"Before we got here," Kim said, "guys were kind of nervous because it's called the 'Youth Academy,' but when we got here the field was big enough for pro teams. Plus, the guys working here were willing to help and make improvements."
In addition to being the first Korean club to train at a UYA site, the NC Dinos are also the only team to train in Tucson instead of the Phoenix metro area. The other five Korean teams who work out in Arizona have recently traveled to Japan for exhibition games in advance of the regular season, which begins at the end of March.
The Compton UYA, which was established in 2006, was the first of five U.S. facilities operating under the Urban Youth Academy umbrella. It has graduated more than 500 players to the college ranks, and more than 100 alumni have been drafted. More than 3,000 players are involved in the California academy's day-to-day operations. There are also academies in Cincinnati, Houston, New Orleans and Philadelphia.
The NC Dinos did their part to help make a positive impact at the UYA as well, donating over 600 baseballs and several batting mats before loading up for a long flight back to South Korea.
"It was very satisfying," Kim said. "We're definitely looking forward to coming back."