Kang ready to put past to rest, get back to ball

Kang ready to put past to rest, get back to ball

PITTSBURGH -- After a year away from professional baseball, Jung Ho Kang is ready to play again. In an interview with the Yonhap News Agency published Tuesday, Kang apologized for the drunken-driving arrest that has kept him out of the United States this season and looked forward to his time in the Dominican Winter League.

Kang has spent the entire season on the restricted list, unable to acquire a U.S. work visa or play for the Pirates. He has not often spoken publicly since his December arrest for driving under the influence, his third such arrest since 2009, which led to an eight-month jail sentence that was suspended for two years.

Kang, 30, remains under contract with the Pirates in 2018 with a club option for '19. Pittsburgh hopes to see Kang return next season, and manager Clint Hurdle plans to see Kang play in winter ball for Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Republic.

"I am really thankful that they tell me they still need me," Kang told Yonhap. "I want to become a better person and a better player."

Kang has not played in an organized game since October, when he finished up a 21-homer season for the Pirates. He has not received Major League pay or service time while on the restricted list. He has been working out in his native South Korea and holding clinics for young baseball players, according to the Yonhap report.

"Just the fact that I'll be playing actual games will be significant in and of itself," Kang said. "The most important thing is to make adjustments as quickly as I can, and just get back my feel for the game. I've been away for too long."

It is unclear whether Kang faces additional punishment from the Pirates or Major League Baseball when he returns. Earlier this year, Kang agreed to participate in a voluntary treatment program recommended by a joint panel headed by MLB and the MLB Players Association. According to the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement, participation in such a program "shall be considered as a mitigating factor in any discipline imposed by either the Club or the Office of the Commissioner."

The Pirates have stayed in touch with Kang and sent him a pitching machine to help him stay sharp -- a gift Kang reportedly donated to a local school. Despite their hope Kang will return, general manager Neal Huntington has said the Pirates again must plan for the possibility that Kang cannot acquire a work visa.

"I am really grateful, and I want to do well in the Dominican Winter League for them," Kang said. "I am a little worried about how I am going to fare after sitting out for a year. And for all they've done for me, I know the Pirates will be disappointed if I don't live up to their expectations. That's why I've been training so hard here.

"Obviously, I am worried about such uncertainty, but I can't do anything about that because it's all been my own doing. I'll just try to worry about things I can actually control. I'll concentrate on playing well in the Dominican Republic."

Kang has been watching the Pirates play each morning, he told Yonhap, and he has heard from a handful of his Pittsburgh teammates, including Andrew McCutchen.

The Pirates have missed Kang's powerful bat. Huntington and Hurdle have cited Kang's absence, as well as Starling Marte's 80-game suspension, for their trouble scoring runs this season.

"I don't know how much of a difference I would have made, but still, it's been frustrating to watch the club lose," Kang said. "Even when you lose, it's always better to do it as a team. I wished I could have helped the team. I am sorry to my teammates and fans."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.