From Boston to ‘Belter for a Day — Auction winner John Choe
By Tom Jackson
Old Guy Ballplayer
The most envied man in Central Illinois baseball circles — or least among us baseball-crazed old-guys — is John Choe, left,Â a Boston-based, insurance companyÂ investment analyst. With a bid of five grand, Choe won the right to take the field as a Normal CornBelter this Friday in an exhibition game versus the Joliet Slammers.
Choe will, according to ‘Belters PR Manager Ashlynne Solvie, “sign an official one-day, Frontier League contract” with Normal. He will also participate in pre-game workouts, play at least a half-inning in the field and get one plate appearance, and then keep his official ‘Belters home jersey. He will be accompanied on this road trip of a lifetime by his wife, two kids (ages four and two), and his mother-in-law.
Choe will present the $5K check to representatives of the Humane Society of Central Illinois at 6:30 p.m., right before the game, on the Corn Crib diamond. And while Choe has a busy week ahead of him — he’s got to finalize his travel plans and get into baseball-playing shape in just two days! — he took some time to talk to me, as he knows a baseball-crazed kindred spirit when he meets one!
Me: So, John, congrats on winning the auction! Massachusetts, eh? How did you hear about this auction, half-way across the country?
John Choe: ï»¿ï»¿ï»¿ï»¿Years ago, I read an article about the St. Paul Saints [like the 'Belters, a team co-owned by minor league impressario Mike Veeck] auctioning off an opportunity to play. And I also read that two other Midwestern teams had done it around that time, too. So I’ve been hoping for another opportunity and, thankfully, this happened. Plus, my family has wanted to vacation in the Midwest, so they loved the idea of coming here. I know that I bid against a friend of mine here in Boston, too. Perhaps we’re too baseball-crazed out here.
How many bids did you place? Other than your friend, were there others involved in a bidding war?
I submitted four or five bids, total. I don’t know how tight the competition was.
Is this the fulfillment of a dream — to play pro ball? To play in the old stomping grounds of New England diamond legend Old Hoss Radbourn?
Like many of your readers, I’m crazed about baseball and had childhood dreams of playing pro ball. So I couldn’t pass on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I have a deep appreciation of how hard this game is and how skilled minor league players are. I’d like to thank the organization and the team for this opportunity to play. And I’m glad that the team can help the Humane Society of Central Illinois. I’m a fan of Old Hoss Radbourn’s and I hope my performance on Friday would certainly make him proud.
Have you played baseball before — scholastically, collegiately or professionally? And if so, what position did you play?
I played in high school in the mid-1990s and played for a few years after college in an “organized pickup” league that had a few former college baseball players. I played all of the infield positions in the past, but my favorite position has always been 2B.
I neither expect nor hope for the Slammers to go easy on me.
Any particular, personal plans or strategies for your day as a ‘Belter? Any predictions?
My only plan is to enjoy the day. I’ll just be happy to be there. Hope I can help the ballclub. I want to give it my best shot, and hopefully things will work out.
Huge Red Sox and Phillies fan. Grew up in Philly, went to college in Boston and have been here since. While in college, I lived a block away from Fenway. I’m huge into baseball analytics and over the years have met and had discussions with Billy Beane, Bill James, and Rob Neyer, among others. I did some pro bono consulting work for the Red Sox Foundation years ago, too. Yeah, I’m baseball-crazed, just like you!
Any chance of sitting down with you for a podcast on your visit?
We’re flying to Chicago tomorrow (Thursday, May 12), but won’t arrive in Normal until Friday mid-day. We’re planning on leaving Saturday morning. I fear I won’t have a lot of time while in Normal. Perhaps after the game?