Dream come true for Jayden

Jayden in his Pirates gear. (Instagram)

A dream has become reality for a Maribyrnong Sports Academy student, Jayden Kim. He, his father, and his school coach speak to Gerald Lynch about the opportunity of a lifetime to join the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Major League Baseball as a shortstop.

Baseball has always been a part of Jayden’s family. His father David Kim, played in Melbourne from the age of 14 and later moved to Seoul, South Korea where he played in the Korean Professional League for seven years.

Jayden played his early baseball in South Korea for his Little League city team, Ilsan West. Jayden was often picked as the most valuable player and went on to win a record five championships in one year.

While it seems unbelievable now that Jayden would’ve ended up playing any other support his father David said that while he would’ve always loved to see Jayden follow in his footsteps and take up baseball, it didn’t always appear likely.

“He started off just playing soccer and tennis and golf and all the other sports, and yeah, we just figured, you know, he enjoys soccer more,” he said.

“But at around age nine, out of the blue he just said ‘dad can I try baseball?’ Obviously with my career playing baseball, knowing how tough the sport is, I was kind of like, yeah, I don’t know if you really want to do that, but if you want to try it so bad then yeah, go ahead.

“He fell in love with it, and I guess the rest is history.”

After spending 20 years as a scout at Minnesota Timms, David picked up a role as a remote scout at the Pittsburgh Pirates at the end of 2022.

The Pirates had Jayden on their radar since 2021 and David said the club spoke to him about Jayden more before he started working with them.

“They were very professional about the whole process, once I joined the Pirates it was radio silence about Jayden,” he said.

“It was to the point where it was frustrating, they wouldn’t allow me to see reports, any meetings on prospects I would have to leave. I get it, but I don’t get it, but I sort of get it,” David chuckled.

While it was tough to be left in the dark about his son’s draft prospects, David said the last thing he wanted was to be a ‘helicopter dad’.

“I had to know my spot in the organisation, you don’t want to be ‘that guy’, and in the end the only real say I had was basically more of a confirmation on what they already saw… they asked me about his level of interest, his work ethic, it was all pretty easy to see by how he goes about it on the field,” he said.

After only moving to Australia two years ago, the plan was for Jayden to finish school and hopefully move to America to play college baseball. The decision was difficult to let Jayden go to the professional game so early on and without him finishing his schooling, but after weighing up the options they decided they couldn’t turn down the opportunity.

“I think the decision to go pro, with Jayden having English as a second language, even though he is an Australian citizen, was probably going to put us behind the black ball,” he said.

“It’s hard enough for you know, someone fluent in English to go to a big time school, college in the States, let alone someone you know, just getting his feet immersed in English.

“So, we felt the pressure of keeping up his grades at a college along with performance on the field, compared to just concentrating on being a baseball player was too much, and he can always return to school afterwards.”

Jayden is saying his final goodbyes before setting off to join the Pirates in early February and said he cannot wait to join his new teammates.

“Just really excited, nervous but excited,” he said. “There’s a lot to worry about with the language and a new culture, but I’ve been dreaming about this.

“No family is coming with me, I’ll be living with teammates in a dorm, just can’t wait to get started.”

Jayden said there will be no special going away party, he is instead using his final days in Australia to work on his left hand game and make sure he is ready to impress from day one.

Maribyrnong Sports Academy director Mark McAllion said that when Jayden arrived at the school in 2021, what he lacked in English skills, he made up for and more in work ethic and passion.

“He was crazily enthusiastic to get over here and get stuck in,” he said. “He even wanted to know if we had a school song, he was intending on writing one at some point.

“He was always an extremely polite kid with a great attitude, he made friends and earnt the respect of everyone around him very early on.”

Mr McAllion has seen a number of strong athletes come through the academy, including another MLB product last year, but he said Jayden has one of the highest ceilings he has seen.

“His potential is huge, his work ethic will hold him in really good stead, and he’s obviously extremely talented,” he said.

“I mean, I’m not a baseball expert, but he’s definitely got a lot of the attributes of an elite athlete, definitely.”

The MLB season tees off on March 20, so Jayden will have six weeks to try and push for an early season debut, but settling into life in America is at the top of the priority list.

The Pirates started last season well with a 20-9 record, before ending the campaign with a 76-86 record, finishing fourth of five in the national league central division.