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(News Focus) KBO-expansion team

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

CHANGWON, South Korea, April 3 (Yonhap) -- The NC Dinos, the newest member of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), lost their inaugural game against the Lotte Giants on Tuesday, but the Dinos' manager Kim Kyung-moon said he still saw hope for his team.

The Dinos, the league's ninth club, played their first-ever KBO game before a sellout crowd of 14,200 at Masan Stadium here in Changwon, about 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul, in South Gyeongsang Province. The Giants, though, spoiled the party, by blanking the Dinos 4-0.

The Dinos, largely made up of rookies and castaways let go by incumbent teams, managed only four hits, all of them singles. They also committed two fielding errors and made other sloppy defensive plays that didn't count as errors.

Five of the nine batters for the Dinos made their KBO debut Tuesday. Adam Wilk, a former minor league prospect for the Detroit Tigers, also pitched in his first KBO game.

After the loss, Kim, the manager, took off his cap and bowed in apology to the fans. He still walked off the field to a loud ovation.

Kim lamented the team's lack of experience but said he will stick by them.

"I am going to have faith in our players and keep playing them," he said. "Most of our players have never played at this level before. Those guys need to play hard and not feel intimidated."

Wilk, a 25-year-old southpaw, was one of the bright spots for the Dinos. He kept the Giants scoreless over six innings, allowing only four hits and two walks while striking out three.

He gave up two straight singles to start the second inning, but third baseman Lee Hyun-gon caught a botched bunt attempt by Park Jong-yoon and doubled up Hwang Jae-gyun at first base. Wilk then grounded out Yong Deok-han to end the inning.

He had a three-up, three-down fourth inning, needing just 10 pitches, and left a runner stranded on third with two outs in the fifth by retiring Jeon Jun-woo.

Wilk is one of three foreign pitchers for the Dinos. Other KBO teams are allowed to have two foreign players on their rosters, but the Dinos have an extra spot for a player from outside South Korea, a special exception for the expansion club.

And rather than selecting a position player, possibly a power hitter to bat in the heart of the order, the Dinos used all of their quotas on pitchers. Along with Wilk, Charlie Shirek and Eric Hacker, both right-handers with some U.S. minor league experience, will headline what should be a solid rotation.

Mo Chang-min, the starting first baseman, batted third and had two of the team's four hits, going 2-for-2 with a walk. The former backup infielder with the SK Wyverns is getting his first opportunity to play regularly at age 27.

Mo will be surrounded in the lineup by a pair of veterans: Lee Ho-joon, who is playing in his 17th season and has 242 career home runs, and Lee Hyun-gon, the 2007 KBO batting champion who can play multiple infield positions.

Depending on how competitive the Dinos can be in their first season, they could form an interesting regional rivalry with the Giants.

Before the Dinos were founded, the Giants had been a vocal opponent to having a new team in the Changwon area. As the only KBO team in South Gyeongsang region, the Giants had long enjoyed massive support not just from their home city of Busan but from the rest of the province. The Giants have also played a few games each season at Masan Stadium to cater to South Gyeongsang fans outside Busan.

Though they never publicly admitted to it, the Giants, which have been the KBO's biggest draw in each of the past four years, might not have wanted a second team in the same province to divide fans' attention.

The Giants have been to every postseason since 2008 while the Dinos may be hard pressed to finish the season with a .500 winning percentage. Regardless of discrepancy in their talent level, these two teams should play under bright spotlights the rest of the way.

The Dinos added some fuel to the budding rivalry by beating the Giants twice in preseason. Managers and players of the two clubs, however, have tried to downplay the rivalry angle.

Kim Kyung-moon, the NC manager, said the Dinos aren't yet good enough to be seen as a rival to the Giants.

"Our goal first and foremost is to get better and form a viable rivalry (with the Giants)," he said. "That will delight a lot of fans in this region. But right now, we have to play eight teams in the league, and we can't worry too much about one particular team."

Mo echoed his manager's sentiment.

"I don't think we're rivals (with Lotte) in our first year," he said. "We want to be competitive against all other teams, including the Giants."

Kim Si-jin, the manager for Lotte, said the Dinos are merely one of nine teams in the league and said facing them is "just a part of the long regular season."

Cho Sung-hwan, the Giants' captain, said he welcomed a new team to South Gyeongsang.

"As a player, having an extra team is always nice," he said. "And if our teams can grow together, then so much the better."

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