JUPITER, Fla. -- Almost as soon as he obtained his work visa in South Korea, Cardinals reliever Seung Hwan Oh traveled to Jupiter, hopeful that his early arrival would assist with the cultural assimilation. And upon landing, he was greeted by Eugene Koo, whom Oh first met at his introductory news conference in January and will now spend countless hours alongside as he works to fit in and find his way in an unfamiliar environment.
Koo, 29, is not officially a member of manager Mike Matheny's staff, but he will be privy to all sorts of coaching discussions in his role as a conduit between Oh and other members of the organization. He will be permitted to make mound visits with Matheny and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, and it will be Koo's responsibility to ensure that Oh understands all instruction.
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But Koo will not only assist Oh as a full-time interpreter. He's also around to help Oh find his footing in America. In fact, Koo defines his job description as part personal assistant, part comrade, part forced best friend.
"The cultural part is huge," said the Cincinnati-born Koo. "I'm talking with Mike as much as possible, trying to get his message to Oh and vice versa."
"I think it's worked out already," added Matheny. "He does a great job and speaks perfect English. He makes it very seamless to have the conversation."
Koo is the first full-time translator the Cardinals have employed, though they will soon add a Spanish-speaking interpreter to the staff. The latter addition will be so that the Cardinals are in compliance with a new Major League guideline.
Though born in the United States, Koo moved to Korea at the age of 7 and completed elementary, middle and high school there. He returned to the U.S. for college, majoring in sports management at New York University, and aside from a two-year stint in the military, Koo has remained in the country since.
Koo most recently worked as an account manager for an advertising and marketing firm, but he also maintained an interest in connecting his career to sports. Koo said his love of baseball traces back to his days growing up in Cincinnati, where he collected a few thousand baseball cards that he had to give away upon his family's move to Korea. He kept one, that of his favorite player, Barry Larkin.
"I have always been a fan," Koo said. "Now, I'm trying to be that facilitator right now, helping out the team and Oh as best I can."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.