When WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari commented the fact that Seung-yuop Lee was named Ambassador of the 2019 WBSC Premier Group C round in Seoul he made it with the ardour of the baseball fan.
“Lee is an admired international baseball hero and will play an important role not only in the promotion of this global competition but also the inspiration of the event and playing for your country,” said Fraccari.
“I would like to thank everyone for giving me this opportunity,” said Lee, who is also a Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) League Honorary Ambassador. “I will do my best to promote the [Premier12] as well as Korean baseball…My efforts [will be aimed at] helping the growth of baseball as an international sport.”
— WBSC ⚾ (@WBSC) 15 aprile 2019
Lee: An International Baseball Star
Seung-yuop Lee, Korea’s home-run King, played for his Country at the top international level. When Korea won the first ever Olympic gold medal in 2008 in Bejing, Lee hit a go-ahead home run in the semi-final against Japan and took deep Cuba’s starter Norberto Gonzalez in his first at bat of the final.
“The 2008 Olympics were so special because the Korean National Team won the gold medal,” Lee told WBSC. “Before the Beijing Olympics, I also hit home runs at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and 2006 World Baseball Classic, but it was meaningless as Korea did not win the Championship.”
Lee had another memory to share: “During the Beijing Olympics, I was struggling until the quarter-final game, and I felt I owed to my fellow players, Manager Kim, and Korea’s baseball fans. I had to make it up. Those home runs during the semi-final and the gold medal game were so important. I was able to play an important role in winning the gold medal and it was a special moment for me and the team.”
In the 2006 World Baseball Classic Lee connected for five home runs. This remains the most a player has hit in a single edition of the tournament. Cuba’s Alfred Despaigne (7) surpassed him as the all-time World Baseball Classic home run leader.
Home runs are what Seung-yuop Lee did best in his baseball career. At age 26, while playing in Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) top professional league, he became the youngest player in baseball to hit 300 home runs.
In 2003 he set the Asian home run record in one season at 56. Dutch import Wladimir Balentien broke it in 2013 while playing for the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) Yakult Swallows.
Lee surpassed the 400-home run mark back home in 2015 and now holds the all-time KBO home run record with 467. He hit his last homer during his final game in the league on Tuesday, 3 October 2017.
Seung-yuop Lee also holds the all-time KBO record for RBIs: 1,498. He made his KBO debut in 1995 for the Samsung Lions, based in the southern city of Daegu the only team he would play in Korea. He spent 9 seasons (1995-2003) with the Lions, earning 5 times MVP honours and leading the team to the 2002 Korean Series. He then moved to NPB and returned for the final years of his career (2012-2017), adding two more league titles
Lee played for three different NPB teams: Chiba Lotte Marines (2004-2005), Yomiuri Giants (2006-2010) and Orix Buffaloes (2011). He added 159 home runs
Baseball is the most popular team sport in Korea and Lee reaffirmed it: “Of course, baseball is the biggest team sport in Korea. Although there are many other popular team sport such as soccer, basketball and volleyball, if you think of the feelings and stories people have at the baseball stadium, I do believe it is the best team sport in Korea. KBO League, which attracts more than 8 million fans every year, is not just an athletic game but a part of everyday’s life for many people. Furthermore, the unique cheering culture of the KBO League provides a special experience that is not seen anywhere else.”
Many believe that baseball is not so popular amongst the younger generations. How do you think this problem may be solved?
“Though the age of baseball fans is getting higher than before, I believe it can be solved through various efforts. As technology develops, young people are in an environment where they can choose from a variety of entertainments. To make baseball more familiar to younger generations, we should maximize the unique experience that can only be obtained at the baseball stadium. For example, the cheering culture from the KBO League or using social media smartly as a communication tool or building an IT-friendly stadium which provides all kinds of data. As WBSC is changing various systems and rules to make baseball a more dynamic sport, KBO and other professional leagues also have to play their part, for instance speeding up the games. Personally, I will try to make the most out of my athlete’s experience for baseball development.”
WBSC and Group C host KBO hope Lee will hit another home run for the Premier12, the promotion of baseball, both in Korea and around the world.
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