CLEVELAND -- Indians outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and his teammates on South Korea's national team are one step closer to winning gold at this year's Asian Games. A medal, however, is hardly the only thing at stake.
The home run that Choo launched in a 7-1 victory over China on Thursday also helped put the South Korea players closer to being exempt from required military service. South Korea will face the defending champions from Taiwan in the gold medal game on Friday in Guangzhou, China.
According to Korean military regulations, athletes will receive an exemption from 30 months of military conscription if they capture a gold medal in the Asian Games. All able-bodied South Korean men are required to serve two years in the military by the end of their 30th year. Choo, who turned 28 in July, is using his bat to escape that obligation.
"I was a bit nervous at the beginning," Choo told The Associated Press. "So were my teammates, but we're getting better."
As things currently stand, South Korea is undefeated and in a prime position to capture the gold. Choo certainly has done his part, belting three home runs along the way. In Thursday's victory, China walked Choo three times, but he made them pay with a blast in a fourth plate appearance, and he contributed three runs scored in the win.
The South Koreans are attempting to win the gold after finishing with the bronze medal in the 2006 Asian Games. South Korea had won gold in the previous two tournaments. Should South Korea fall short of its ultimate goal on Friday, Choo has no interest in letting his country's military requirement stand in the way of his career with the Indians.
If the South Koreans have to settle for silver, Choo will likely resort to other measures in order to sidestep the military obligation. One option for Choo -- who has a home in Buckeye, Ariz. -- is potentially applying to become a U.S. citizen.
This past season with the Tribe, Choo hit .300 with 22 home runs, 90 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 144 games. The outfielder became the only Indians player since 1901 to record a .300 average and at least 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in consecutive seasons.