After year of downs, Choo ready to rise in '12

After year of downs, Choo ready to rise in '12

After year of downs, Choo ready to rise in '12
CLEVELAND -- It was a concise comment, but one that could loom large for the Indians during the upcoming season. Standing at his locker in Cleveland near the end of September, Shin-Soo Choo finally had his mind right again.

"I know where I am right now," Choo said.

Choo had been lost amidst off-field issues and on-field struggles that had the Indians' star right fielder searching for some sign of his former self. The end result was a forgettable season, but one that Choo believes can serve as a turning point for the rest of his career, beginning with the 2012 campaign.

For the first time in his life, Choo discovered rock bottom.

"I was always going up," Choo said. "Everything was going up, and then this year everything went straight down to the bottom. I feel I've learned a lot. I learned about myself, not only baseball, but outside. I've learned from that."

That was Choo's May 2 arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol. It was a regrettable and embarrassing turn for South Korea's poster boy. Choo was already struggling in the batter's box. After his arrest -- complete with an online video detailing that night's events -- his problems soared to new heights.

On May 3 in Oakland, Choo answered questions before apologizing to reporters. He then called a meeting on the field with his teammates, who circled around and listened as he offered them an apology as well. Choo's image in his home country, however, was stained, and that led to more issues for the outfielder.

Choo kept an eye on the news coverage in Korea and it only added to his stress.

Only a few months earlier, Choo was a hero back home after helping South Korea win a gold medal in the Asia Games, earning himself an exemption from his country's required military service in the process. Some critics overseas wondered if such a reward should be revoked in light of his arrest.

With his head spinning, Choo labored through an 0-for-18 slump after the gathering with his teammates in Oakland, and his season average dropped to .213.

"The DUI, that hurt my image in Korea," Choo said. "I learned I can't make everybody happy. I was trying to make everybody happy. My mind, my personality, is to always try to be perfect, perfect. If something is wrong, I go back and start over. That's my personality.

"That was the first big mistake in my life. I was worrying about what people were thinking about me."

Choo decided that enough was enough.

The outfielder started ignoring what was written about him and concentrating solely on baseball. He felt that if he could alleviate that stress, then perhaps the success he was used to having on the field would return.

"I'm not reading anything now," Choo said. "I don't see anything from Korea. I don't see articles about me anymore. I just come to the clubhouse and then I play. When I leave the clubhouse, I spend my time with my family. That's it."

Choo did get his mind in a better place, and his performance did begin to improve. What he could not control, though, were the injuries that derailed the rest of his season.

"I never had an injury in my baseball career," Choo said. "Then, this year, I was on the disabled list three times. But you can't control injuries. That happens in baseball."

Choo was hitting .316 over a 12-game stretch in June before having his left thumb shattered by a pitch from Jonathan Sanchez in San Francisco on June 24. That led to surgery and nearly six weeks on the disabled list. When Choo returned, he hit .348 over his first 12 games before straining his left oblique on Aug. 27.

He never fully recovered and only had one September at-bat following that injury.

"The frustrating thing last year," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said, "was after he got off to that tough start, he got hit on the hand and he had just started playing well. He was coming out of things. Then he came back and was playing well and contributing and then suffered the oblique.

"Just as he started to get things going, he unfortunately suffered those injuries."

There was one special highlight in 2011 for Choo.

On Aug. 22, Choo and his wife, Won Mi Ha, welcomed their third child, a baby daughter named Abigail, to the world. One day later, Choo rejoined the Indians and belted a walk-off home run -- the first of his career -- to lead Cleveland to a 7-5 win over Seattle.

It was a moment that helped erase all the bad that had transpired.

"That was good for me," Choo said, "to come this year."

Choo's season-ending line saw him hit .259 with eight home runs, 11 doubles 36 RBIs and a .344 on-base percentage in 85 games for Cleveland. During the 2009-10 seasons, he combined to hit .300 with 42 homers, 43 stolen bases, 69 doubles and a .397 on-base percentage across 300 games.

That is the type of player the Tribe hopes shows up in 2012.

"My career, every year has been better, better, better," Choo said. "This year, I was at the bottom. So next year, I can only go up. Maybe it won't be stressful. I'll just be able to play. I'll get healthy in the offseason and then next year come back and then just play.

"I'll show them I'm healthy and I can still play."

Cleveland is depending on it.

"Choo was faced with a lot of adversity this year," Antonetti said. "I think he's learned a great deal from that adversity and I think it will benefit him going forward."

In his improved frame of mind, Choo views things the same way.

"If I was older, maybe it'd be harder to come back from this," he said. "I'm still young. I think this all happened to come early and that's good for me. I've learned early -- found out early. That's what I'm thinking."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.