Folk hero. First baseman. Rays fans fall for Ji-Man Choi

Ji-Man Choi has turned into something of hero at Tropicana Field. His performance and actions during the American League Division Series with Houston affirmed that status.
Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi (26) celebrates after hitting a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida on Sunday, August 18, 2019. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times  |  Tampa Bay Times
Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi (26) celebrates after hitting a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida on Sunday, August 18, 2019. OCTAVIO JONES | Times | Tampa Bay Times
Published October 9
Updated October 9

ST. PETERSBURG – “Ji-Man Choi. Ji-Man Choi,” a crowd of Rays fans chant in the Tropicana Field parking lot before Tuesday’s Game 4 with Houston.

Tampa Bay picked up the Korean first baseman in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers in June 2018. The Rays sent Brad Miller and cash considerations to pick up the journeyman. In his four-year major-league career, he has already played for four different franchises.

Now, he’s beloved in Tampa Bay.

“Ji-Man Choi. Ji-Man Choi,” the Trop crowd roars as their first baseman draws a first-inning walk. He came around to score on a Travis d’Arnaud single, giving the Rays a 2-0 lead in the first.

“That was the first time I’ve actually heard anything like that,’’ Choi said via team translator Ha Ram (Sam) Jeong before Tuesday’s game. “I was happy to hear them chanting my name and getting excited.’’

In the top of the third, Choi picked off a Josh Reddick liner to end the inning. He then fired the ball into the stands, all the way into section 312 of the upper deck.

“That’s pretty cool. It’s like another level of fan appreciation,” said Greg Hunsinger, a fan from St. Petersburg who caught the ball 14 rows deep in the Trop’s third level. “You don’t have to go all that way, but he did.”

Greg Hunsinger, 47, St. Petersburg, caught a ball thrown by Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi in the upper deck in ALDS game 3 on Oct. 8, 2019. Ryan Kolakowski
Greg Hunsinger, 47, St. Petersburg, caught a ball thrown by Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi in the upper deck in ALDS game 3 on Oct. 8, 2019. Ryan Kolakowski

“Ji-Man Choi. Ji-Man Choi,” they shouted after he drew a fourth-inning walk to chase Verlander from the game.

The chants rang out again when Choi pulled off an unassisted double play to end the fourth inning. And again when he stepped up to the plate before striking out in the sixth.

“Ji-Man Choi. Ji-Man Choi.”

Contact Ryan Kolakowski at rkolakowski@tampabay.com. Follow @RyanKolakowski

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