Military commitment leaves Choo's future in doubt

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) -- As one of baseball's rising young stars, Shin-Soo Choo has a bright future.

Due to circumstances beyond his control, the Cleveland Indians outfielder and native of South Korea is uncertain if that future will be interrupted.

Choo put together a solid all-around season in 2009, but he faces a potential problem that has nothing to do with baseball. South Korean men are required to serve two years in the military by the time they turn 30 years old. Choo will be 28 in July and will have to deal with this issue soon.

"It's hanging over my head a little bit," he admitted.

Choo has options. The best alternative would be to play for the South Korean baseball team in the 2010 Asian Games, which will be held in November. Choo would need to get clearance from the Indians to participate. If South Korea wins the gold medal, Choo said his military obligation would be waived.

The situation would become more complicated if Choo doesn't play on the team or if South Korea doesn't win the tournament. He's reluctant to go into details since this is a sensitive issue in his country, where his success with the Indians has turned him into a well-known figure.

Choo could refuse to return to South Korea or apply for citizenship in the United States, but he realizes that decision may not be well-received in his country, where people follow his performance on a daily basis.

"I try not to think about it," Choo said. "It's the same as last year. I didn't think about it then. The only thing I know how to do is play baseball."

Choo has gotten some good-natured questions about the situation from his teammates.

"They've asked me about it and I told them, don't worry, that I'll be with them," he said.

Choo, who bats and throws left-handed, had good numbers across the board last season. He hit .300 with 20 homers, 86 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. Choo tied for fourth among American League outfielders with 11 assists.

"I think I'm getting better at everything, not only hitting, but defense and stealing bases," Choo said. "I want to keep getting better. That's my goal every year."

New manager Manny Acta is getting his first look at Choo, but has been impressed with what he's seen early in camp.

"He sticks out the way he swings the bat," Acta said.

Choo's improvement could cause another problem for the money-conscious Indians. Although he can't be a free agent until after the 2013 season, he'll be eligible for arbitration following this season unless he signs a multiyear contract. The fact Choo recently hired Scott Boras as his agent probably won't help the Indians' chances of reaching a deal.

Choo, however, is comfortable playing in Cleveland.

"I like being with the Indians," he said. "I feel like I'm at home here. I want to stay a long time."

NOTES: The Indians will play intrasquad games Tuesday and Wednesday. Acta said OF Grady Sizemore, coming off groin and elbow operations, won't play Tuesday and will DH on Wednesday. ... RHP Jake Westbrook, returning from Tommy John surgery, threw batting practice for the first time Monday without any problems. ... RHP Jason Knapp, acquired from Philadelphia last season in the Cliff Lee trade, has reported to early minor league camp. The Indians expect Knapp, who had shoulder surgery last year, to pitch at some point this season. ... RHP Tom Mastny, who pitched for the Indians from 2006-08, signed a minor league contract. He pitched in Japan last season.

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