Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang sat in baseball exile since the end of the 2016 season — a third DUI in his native South Korea leaving him unable to get a work visa to return to the U.S. and Major League Baseball.
That changed, somewhat unexpectedly Thursday, as the Pirates confirmed that Kang was granted a visa and has returned to the U.S.
“After a lengthy process, we are pleased that Jung Ho has been allowed to re-enter to the United States,” team president Frank Coonelly said in a statement, first shared by The Athletic. “We are encouraged by the steps that Jung Ho has taken to date and are hopeful that having the game he loves taken away from him for more than a year has driven home the reality that he must make better life decisions as we move forward together.
“As we have communicated to him throughout this process, we will work to provide Jung Ho with the resources and support necessary for him to meet the high expectations that we have for him as a member of our organization and our community.”
Kang, 31, was a Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2015 after making the jump from Korean pro baseball. But he was arrested in Korea in January 2017 for his third DUI, put on trial and received an eight-month suspended sentence. In the aftermath, he was unable to get a visa to play last season. In 2016, while in the U.S., Kang was also accused of and investigated for sexual assault but never charged.
Kang spent time in the Dominican Winter League between last season and this one, but didn’t fare too well. He hit .143 in 24 games playing for Aguilas Cibaenas and eventually released from his team.
Here he is, back in the U.S., greeted by his immigration attorney:
— Javad Khazaeli (@javadesq) April 26, 2018
It’s unclear what sort of impact he’ll have with the Pirates anytime soon. In his second season, Kang was still productive but his numbers weren’t as good as his debut. Now he’s been out of MLB for parts of two seasons and didn’t exactly tear up the Dominican league.
The Pirates (14-11) are off to a better-than-expected start even though they traded Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole. Corey Dickerson has proven to be a great pickup and Gregory Polanco looks to be having a breakout season. In a baseball sense, this news couldn’t come at a better time.
Getting a boost from Kang could be vital for keeping them in contention in the NL Central.
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