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Updated 6 hours ago
BRADENTON, Fla. — The players' union is monitoring Jung Ho Kang's DUI trial in South Korea as well as how the Pirates respond to the outcome, MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark said.
On Wednesday, Kang admitted to the charges during his trial in Seoul Central District Court. The verdict hearing is set for March 3.
“International challenges make it a little more difficult to track everything that's going on,” Clark said Thursday during his annual visit to Pirates spring training camp.
“We're going to stay engaged. It is our duty to support guys as they go through challenges, on or off the field, particularly when they are connected to a negotiated protocol or program that is in place.”
The Pirates have not yet indicated whether Kang will be disciplined by the team. His case was reviewed by an MLB panel, under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.
Through his agent, Kang said he is willing to accept the panel's recommendation and enter a voluntary alcohol-abuse treatment program. That could be a mitigating factor if the Pirates and MLB decide to fine or suspend him.
Kang was twice arrested for drunken driving in South Korea before he signed with the Pirates in January 2015. Clark was vague on whether Kang's previous DUI incidents will affect his status now with the Pirates.
“We'll have to see,” Clark said. “I won't sit here and tell you that what someone does in the past is insignificant. But how it manifests itself moving forward against what may have just happened is always going to be a topic of conversation.”
During an hourlong, closed-door meeting, Clark updated the players on MLB's ongoing changes to improve the pace of games. Earlier this week, labor and management agreed to institute pitch-free intentional walks this season.
“I love baseball the way it is. If you never change another thing, I'd still love it forever,” said reliever Jared Hughes, one of the Pirates' union reps. “But, every now and then an improvement comes along, and we try it out.”
Baseball has tweaked its rules a few times over the past few seasons. Slide rules for plays at the plate and at second base were modified, the fake-to-third, throw-to-first pickoff was outlawed.
Other proposals — such as putting a pitch clock on the field or starting extra innings with a runner on second base — have met with strong resistance from the players.
“I think most can appreciate trying to find little tweaks and adjustments that may save some time,” Clark said. “Guys have been willing to have that conversation. But you're also speaking to a group of guys who, from the time they were knee-high to a table, committed themselves to the game.
“There's a love and a passion and a history that is involved in the conversation that suggests, ‘I want to play the same game my heroes played,' while understanding we're in a different climate and at a different time. You're wanting to make sure you maintain that as much as possible. A lot of our guys have been connected to the game so long that they are very sensitive to significant changes.”
Notes: Friday will be the final workout-only day before Grapefruit League games begin. ... A new twist this year is “Pirates Chopped,” a cooking contest among the players. The favorites? Hughes said it could be the team of Gerrit Cole, Max Moroff, Edgar Santana and Tyler Webb. “Cole is amazingly good,” Hughes said. “In another life, he must have been a professional chef.”
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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