The King of JUCO: How a former Salem-Keizer Volcanoes player became a social media sensation

Eric Sim, aka The King of JUCO, has built a substantial social media following over the last year (Submitted).

Lift big, throw gas, hit bombs.

That is the motto of former Salem-Keizer Volcanoes player Eric Sim. While the mantra never got him to the big leagues, it did help him create a cult-like following on social media. 

The “King of JUCO” has over 60,000 followers on YouTube and more than 40,000 followers on Twitter. Whether it’s doing live at-bats against current big-leaguers, or creating his 95-or-die challenge, Sim is having a blast with the content he is able to create.

“It has been an amazing ride. I am just having fun with it. It’s just about being different,” Sim said.

Sim grew up in South Korea before moving to Canada at the age of 13. Although he didn’t know much English, Sim fell in love with the game of baseball.

“I just loved the training and truly progressing and getting better at what I do,” Sim said.

Sim had the desire to play after high school, but didn’t have any initial collegiate offers. Eventually, he signed with Colby Community College in Kansas.

“It was in the middle of nowhere. It was about learning and growing as fast as you can so you could move forward,” Sim said.

Sim says that his two years at Colby were the most fun he’s had ever had playing baseball, and it gave him a passion to be an advocate and supporter for junior college baseball, also known as JUCO, players.

Sim coined the term “JUCO Bandit” as someone who is a high-quality junior college baseball player that grinds to improve so they can transfer to a four-year school. The term has gained popularity amongst community college players throughout the country.

“People used to play JUCO because they had to. They didn’t have any other options. It has been crazy to see how far it has come with kids actually wanting to be JUCO Bandits instead of going to a four-year school right away,” Sim said.

When a former junior college player called him “The King of JUCO,” Sim ran with the new nickname — which is what he named his website, as well as his social media sites.

“Some jabroni just said that one time and it just stuck. I changed my Twitter handle and it has been a big part of my brand ever since,” Sim said.

After a successful career at Colby, Sim received a scholarship to play his final two seasons at South Florida University, where he became a fan favorite. In 2010, he was selected as a catcher by the San Francisco Giants in the 27th round of the MLB Draft.

Sim spent five years in the Giants system, never advancing past Single-A ball and struggling at the plate.

In 2015, when Sim spent the season with the Volcanoes, he was convinced by Matt Yourkin, the Volcanoes pitching coach, to make the transition from catcher to pitcher.

“I had never pitched in my life. But I was struggling in low A-ball so I decided to give it a try. I was pitching 95 percent fastballs, but I was throwing 90 (MPH),” Sim said. “I had a great time in Keizer. Those memories will never leave.”

Sim made 26 appearances as a relief pitcher in 2015, throwing 32 innings and posting a 2.53 ERA with 32 strikeouts.

Along with having some moderate success on the mound, Sim says becoming a pitcher gave him a newfound swagger on the field.

“Pitching is a whole other ball game. You start the game with the ball. You have to have this attitude that you are the best in the world,” Sim said. “There has to be a dog mentality there. You need to be the hunter and have to be able to flip the switch.”

Sim played one season of independent ball before officially retiring. He returned home to Canada as a 27-year old with only $500 in his checking account. He worked as a bartender for a few years before his itch to train again was overwhelming.

After minimal exercise since his playing days ended, Sim only hit 77 MPH on the radar gun while throwing at a park. He was incredibly displeased with the result, and over the next year, Sim began training in a cement facility he called “the prison cage” to get back into shape.

“I wasn’t doing it for anyone. I was just having fun with it,” Sim said. “I was training for myself and my enjoyment.”

Partnered with a no-nonsense attitude and NSFW commentary, Sim began to gain a substantial amount of viewers. But his following went through the roof when he started, and completed, the 95-or-die challenge.

In June of last year, Sim began his quest to throw 95 MPH.

After clocking in at 87 MPH, Sim worked tirelessly through a weight lifting regimen and throwing program to try and hit 95 MPH — harder than he ever threw as a player.

In November 2020, Sim reached his mark, and celebrated accordingly.

“I was so psyched. It took me 151 days to get to 95 and I enjoyed every single day,” Sim said. “I wanted to do whatever it took to be the best version of myself in baseball. I didn’t want to throw 77 just like everyone else. I felt like I had a unique mentality and I wasn’t afraid to speak up. And I felt like people started taking notice.”

Over the last several months, Sim has created a variety of popular videos, ranging from velocity challenges with college baseball players, to trying to out-bench press a professional shot-putter — most of his videos receive tens of thousands of views.

Sim didn’t even realize how popular he had become until he went to a Chicago White Sox game with former big leaguer Jonny Gomes.

Gomes played for eight teams over his 13-year career, but went unrecognized when he and Sim walked into the stadium. However, when Sim was spotted, dozens of youngsters flocked to him asking for an autograph.

“It was pretty crazy. No one recognized him. But so many kids came up to me and I was giving them signatures,” Sim said.

Since rising to fame, Sim has used his platform to be an advocate for minor league baseball players receiving better pay. When he was a player, Sim shared stories of living in a three-bedroom house with seven other players and often eating peanut butter sandwiches for dinner.

“Stuff like that shouldn’t happen. They need to be paid a livable wage so they can focus on baseball and produce for their organizations,” Sim said.

With Major League Baseball announcing that they would pay for minor league players’ housing, along with salary increases, starting next season, Sim is encouraged that the trend is heading in the right direction, but says there is still work to be done.

“I’m so glad it’s changing but we still have a long way to go. I am going to keep speaking up for them. They need to at least be making minimum wage,” Sim said.

Sim says that he has found his passion as a content creator, and he isn’t planning on slowing down any time soon.

“With content, the sky’s the limit,” Sim said. “I’m going to do this until I can’t anymore.”

Matt Rawlings: [email protected]