It’s his first time starting with the first team. How different will the Hanwha Eagles look with Choi Won-ho ‘officially’ in charge and a full season under his belt?
After being named head coach of the Hanwha Futures in November 2019, Choi Won-ho first took charge of the first team in 2020. In June 2020, the team was at its lowest point, in the midst of a historic losing streak. Following the dismissal of Han Yong-duk, Choi led the first-team squad through a 14-game losing streak and came within a whisker of breaking the all-time record for the longest losing streak.
After finishing the 2020 season on the sidelines, Choi returned to the helm of the Futures the following year to work with Hanwha’s younger players. After finishing last in the Northern League with 23 wins, 4 losses and 55 draws in 82 games in 2021, Hanwha Futures won 14 straight games in 2022, the longest winning streak in Futures League history, to win the Northern League title with 63 wins, 2 draws and 33 losses in 98 games.
In 2023, he suddenly took over the reins of the first team. Hanwha announced the parting of ways with Carlos Suvero shortly after the May 11 match against Samsung Electronics in Daejeon. Subero had been brought in to rebuild, but the club decided it was time for a change, and Choi Won-ho became the 13th head coach of Hanwha.
After finishing last in 2020, 2021, and 2022, Hanwha finished ninth in 2023 with 58 wins, 6 draws, and 80 losses in 144 games. It wasn’t a dramatic turnaround, even if it did take four years. Only 1.5 games separated them from the bottom-placed Kiwoom Heroes, so it was a season that shouldn’t be overestimated.
But there have been victories. Hanwha won eight straight games from June 21 against KIA in Daejeon to July 1 against Samsung Electronics in Daegu, the first eight-game winning streak since June 12 against the LG Twins in Daejeon in 005, a whopping 6593 days. Players who were more familiar with losing streaks than winning streaks planted memories of the “taste of victory. Since 2020, they have gone through three divisions, and in 2022, their winning percentage increased from 0.324 to 0.420.
As soon as Choi took the helm, he organized special sessions to increase the amount of training, especially for batters who didn’t play often, so that they could get guidance from coaches and adjust their hitting sensation. The special sessions became a good culture for Hanwha, and even the main players could stay after the game if they were disappointed, so that they could refine their thoughts and attitudes for the next game.
After hopping on the train from Seosan to Daejeon, Choi Won-ho now has a long time to prepare for the new season. It started in November in Miyazaki, Japan. At the final camp, Choi watched rookies like Hwang Jun-seo and Cho Dong-wook, and had the hitters work on their bunting, which they had been struggling with.
With the departure of Jose Rosado, the pitching coach Park Seung-min, who suddenly moved from bullpen coach to main coach, will also be able to communicate his thoughts to the players earlier in the 2024 season.
Moon Dong-ju and Noh Si-hwan, who have gained experience through full-time regular season play and various international tournaments, have stepped up, and they are joined by big-time veterans like Kim Kang-min and Ahn Chi-hong. Most importantly, Choi Won-ho experienced a season as a full-time head coach instead of an acting one. We’re looking forward to a completely different set-up from last year’s squad.