FORT LORAMIE — While he said he still doesn’t know how to do one of those dramatic flips of his bat, he continues to show he’s certainly made an impressive flip in his attitude.
And because of that Jared Hoying in now playing baseball in South Korea and not tromping around the woods somewhere outside Fort Loramie, where he grew up and still lives in the offseason with his wife Tiffany and two young daughters, Carly and Madison.
In his own words, Hoying – who turned 31 today – is “a homebody, a good ol’ country boy who likes to hunt and fish and enjoy the outdoors.”
Tiffany agreed: “He loves the stability of Fort Loramie. He loves going out in the woods, going to high school basketball games, seeing his family. He loves coming back home.”
And that’s just where he was headed that day his freshman year at the University of Toledo when he loaded his belongings into his car and headed south.
“When I went up to college in Toledo – even though it was just two hours away – it scared the crap out of me,” Hoying said with a laugh the other day in a FaceTime call from his apartment in Daejeon, South Korea, after his Hanwha Eagles game. “I never thought I’d leave Fort Loramie.”
Sue Hoying, Jared’s mom, said her son never told her the story, but Tiffany – who was freshman nursing student at Toledo at the time – recounted his momentary meltdown:
“She said he got homesick and almost quit. She told him ‘You’ve got a full ride. I’d love to have that. You can’t just go home!’ He made it as far as Bowling Green and turned around.”
It was the best flip around Hoying ever made.
He played well at Toledo, got picked in the 10th round of the 2010 baseball draft by the Texas Rangers. and now is in his 11th season of professional baseball.
After several years in the minor leagues, he played parts of the 2016 and 2017 seasons with the Rangers – 74 games in all – and now is in his third season with Hanwha in the 10-team Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).
According to the Yonhap News Agency, he now has a one-year, $1.15 million contract and, in this, the most unusual of seasons because of COVID-19, he’s getting unprecedented exposure.
In the past couple of weeks, the KBO has been the highest-profile pro sports league in the world to be playing games during the pandemic.
Because of that, ESPN has been broadcasting six KBO games live each week, although the 13-hour (EST) time difference means they first air in the wee hours of the morning and have announcers who are still sequestered back here in the United States.
Karl Ravech, for example, watches the games from a spare bedroom in Connecticut home, while broadcast partner Eduardo Perez chimes in from a viewing area set up in his garage in Miami.
The games – while giving hope to the rest of the sequestered sports world – end up a strange dovetail of pandemic precaution and Mudville magic.
Korean baseball is known for its lively fan support, its irrepressible cheerleaders and the over-the-top tradition of its ballplayers flipping their bats after hitting a home run.
Although the KBO delayed its season for five weeks the nation continued its remarkable job of coronavirus containment, it still plans to play its entire 144-game season, which now will end in mid-November.
In these first two weeks, no fans have been allowed into the stadiums, although each ballpark has many of its most visible seats affixed with cardboard cutouts of fans, some wearing masks.
The umpires, base coaches and support staff all wear masks during games, as do the cheerleaders and even some of the mascots with their over-sized heads.
Players wear masks when they’re not playing. They also get their temperatures checked each day when they come to the ballpark and at the start of the season they had to download an app to their phone through which health officials can track contacts should they get COVID-19.
Tobacco chewing is prohibited to prevent spitting and no one is supposed to sign autographs or exchange high-fives.
“The things away from the field are fine, but playing with no fans is weird,” Hoying said. “You feed off the crowd and now you can hear a pin drop.”
The KBO has said if any player on any team tests positive for COVID-19 the whole league will shut down for three weeks.
But except for one recent outbreak in Seoul – where one guy with COVID-19 visited five nightclubs and left over 80 people infected – South Korea has done a remarkable job of containing the virus.
Thanks to extensive testing, contact tracing, a slow rollout and some personal intrusions that some Americans might chafe at, South Korea has minimized the deadly toll.
This year the KBO held its spring training in Arizona and after that Hoying returned home for a couple of weeks until the league was sure it was ready to start.
When he headed to Korea, he left his family – which usually comes with him – back in Fort Loramie until things got settled.
Tiffany Uhlenhake grew up in Coldwater and though she first met Jared on a beach in Panama City, Fla., when their high school classes were taking spring break trips, they didn’t begin dating until they were freshmen at Toledo.
When he was drafted by the Rangers and promptly sent to a minor league club in Spokane, Wash., Hoying said he again had to step from his comfort zone:
“It was my first time flying alone, my first time going off to live alone.”
He adjusted quickly, was the MVP of the league and his pro career was on its way.
Before he joined the Rangers in 2016, he played in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Frisco and Round Rock, Texas and winter league ball in Ponce, Puerto Rico.
After playing 38 games with the Rangers in 2016 – and 100 with Triple-A Round Rock – he got an offer to go to Korea.
“He said, ‘It just doesn’t feel right, Everything has been going right and I feel I still have more,’” Tiffany remembered. “I said, ‘OK, you got to go with your gut.’”
But the following year she said he bounced back and forth between Triple-A and the big leagues at least 10 times. By then their daughter Carly was several months old and life was in a perpetual state of flux.
“I was booking fights, cancelling flights,” Tiffany said. “By the end of the year we were just exhausted and he said, ‘If that (Korean) contract comes back, I feel like I just can’t turn it down again.”
It did – this time from the Hanwha Eagles – and he took it and became an instant hit.
He belted 30 home runs, drove in 110 runs and hit .306 that first season.
The Hanwha fans fell in love with him not just for his power at the plate and strong arm in the field, but for a couple of traits ingrained in him growing up in Fort Loramie:
He had a solid work ethic and he knew how to treat people.
His only minus: he doesn’t flip his bat.
“I don’t know how to do it,” he laughed. “Every time I hit home run I just drop the bat like I did at home.
“Then when I see it, I say to myself: ‘Dang, I should have bat-flipped that one. It was a no-doubter!’”
The games usually air here at 1:30 and 5:30 a.m., but Tiffany said she’s always awake for part of the second one thanks to her year-old alarm clock, little Madison, who was born in South Korea last May 27.
“For some reason she loves to wake up at 6:30 every day” she laughed.
Tiffany also has a VPN app that enables her to watch all the games later and when she does – or when Jared makes his twice daily FaceTime calls – 3 ½ year old Carly will undoubtedly say:
“Mommy can we go to Korea right now!’
Tiffany and the girls are heading over in a couple of weeks and when they do Carly will attend a preschool there.
As it is, Carly’s something of a little star over there. At the ballpark, she sings and dances with the crowd.
“The fans over there are so fun,” Tiffany said. “Even if you’re down 10 runs, the fans and the cheerleaders are on their feet screaming and cheering to the very end.
“In America, if you’re down 10 runs, everybody leaves. It’s completely the opposite over there.”