Choo flies under radar, gulls fly onto field
Outfielder's quiet heroics and birds' antics up for TYIB Awards
CLEVELAND -- Shin-Soo Choo flew under the radar and the Lake Erie seagulls flew into Progressive Field.Now they're all up for a 2009 MLB.com This Year in Baseball Award. For the eighth consecutive year, fans will decide the top hitters, pitchers and moments from the big league season in an online poll.
The ballot boxes will close at 7:59 p.m. ET on Dec. 11. In 2008, a record 12 million votes were cast for the TYIB Awards, and that figure could be surpassed this time around as fans weigh in on the year's top hitter, pitcher, moments and more. The results will be revealed during the week of Dec. 14-18, and winners presented with their trophies on the field in 2010.Choo is one of 10 players nominated in the "Unsung Star of the Year" category, in which some of the game's lesser-known top performers get their just due. As for the gulls, they are featured in the "Oddity of the Year" category for their performance the night of June 11, when Choo's game-winning base hit against the Royals struck one of the birds. For information on all of the awards and to submit your vote, click here.
By virtue of playing on a struggling team in a small market, Choo is not exactly a household name outside Cleveland -- at least not yet. But his 2009 season gave more reason to believe that he is one of the game's rising stars. The native of South Korea played his first full season in the Majors and became the first Asian-born player in Major League history to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases in the same season.Choo finished eighth in the American League in on-base percentage (.394), 14th in doubles (38), 20th in steals (21) and 12th in walks (78). He was one of just four players in the Majors and the only American Leaguer to hit .300 with 20 homers and 20 steals. The other candidates for the "Unsung Star" honor are the Rays' Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist, the Royals' Billy Butler, the Rangers' Nelson Cruz, the Blue Jays' Aaron Hill and Adam Lind, the Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez, the D-backs' Mark Reynolds and the Phillies' Jayson Werth. Choo's game-winner off a gull was one of the more memorable moments from the Indians' season. The gulls had wreaked havoc on Progressive Field for weeks, taking over the outfield during games while munching on discarded food items from the stands. But it was not until Choo's hit that the gulls actually became involved in game action, and the timing could not have been more perfect. With Mark DeRosa on second in the bottom of the 10th inning, Choo sent a liner up the middle. The ball struck a bird before center fielder Coco Crisp could properly field it, and DeRosa easily scored to give the Tribe a 4-3 win. "I saw in the video that I hit the bird," Choo said that night. "The bird helped. I'll take it." Now Choo and the birds will find out if the fans have deemed them worthy of This Year in Baseball recognition.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.