Jung Ho Kang cleared to return to MLB after multiple DUIs barred him from U.S.

Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang had sat in baseball exile since the end of the 2016 season — a third DUI in his native South Korea leaving him unable to get a work visa to return to the U.S. and Major League Baseball.

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That changed, somewhat unexpectedly Thursday, as the Pirates confirmed that Kang was granted a visa and has returned to the U.S.

“After a lengthy process, we are pleased that Jung Ho has been allowed to re-enter to the United States,” team president Frank Coonelly said in a statement, first shared by The Athletic. “We are encouraged by the steps that Jung Ho has taken to date and are hopeful that having the game he loves taken away from him for more than a year has driven home the reality that he must make better life decisions as we move forward together.

“As we have communicated to him throughout this process, we will work to provide Jung Ho with the resources and support necessary for him to meet the high expectations that we have for him as a member of our organization and our community.”

Kang, 31, was a Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2015 after making the jump from Korean pro baseball. But he was arrested in Korea in January 2017 for his third DUI, put on trial and received an eight-month suspended sentence. In the aftermath, he was unable to get a visa to play last season. Kang spent time in the Dominican Winter League between last season and this one, but didn’t fare too well. He hit .143 in 24 games playing for Aguilas Cibaenas and eventually released from his team.

Here he is, back in the U.S., greeted by his immigration attorney:

It’s unclear what sort of impact he’ll have with the Pirates anytime soon. In his second season, Kang was still productive but his numbers weren’t as good as his debut. Now he’s been out of MLB for parts of two seasons and didn’t exactly tear up the Dominican league.

See more from Kang's career: 

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Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang
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Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 25: Jung Ho Kang #27 of the Pittsburgh Pirates in action during the game against the Washington Nationals at PNC Park on September 25, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 26: Jung Ho Kang #27 of the Pittsburgh Pirates in action during the game against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on September 26, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 23: Jung Ho Kang #27 of the Pittsburgh Pirates in action during the game against the Washington Nationals on September 23, 2016 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
MILWAUKEE, WI - SEPTEMBER 20: Jung Ho Kang #27 of the Pittsburgh Pirates sits in the dugout in the sixth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on September 20, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 18: Jung Ho Kang #27 of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrate with teammates after scoring in the second inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on September 18, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 07: Jung Ho Kang #27 of the Pittsburgh Pirates rounds the bases after hitting a home run in the eighth inning during the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park on September 7, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 11: Jung Ho Kang #27 of the Pittsburgh Pirates in action during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park on September 11, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 06: Jung Ho Kang #27 of the Pittsburgh Pirates fields a ground ball in the second inning during the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park on September 6, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 16: Jung Ho Kang #27 of the Pittsburgh Pirates stands in the dugout before the game against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on August 16, 2016 in San Francisco, California. The Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the San Francisco Giants 4-3. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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The Pirates (14-11) are off to a better-than-expected start even though they traded Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole. Corey Dickerson has proven to be a great pickup and Gregory Polanco looks to be having a breakout season. In a baseball sense, this news couldn’t come at a better time.

Getting a boost from Kang could be vital for keeping them in contention in the NL Central.

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Mike Oz is a writer at Yahoo Sports. Contact him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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