Federation Focus: Laos Baseball Federation, one of WBSC's newest Members as the game expands worldwide

Federation Focus: Laos Baseball Federation, one of WBSC's newest Members as the game expands worldwide
Sang-wook Je and former KBO great Man-soo Lee were instrumental in the founding of the national federation in Laos.

The May edition of WBSC's Federation Focus heads to Southeast Asia and the Lao Baseball Federation, which became a WBSC Member in 2019.

Baseball may be known as The Old Game in America, but is a very young sport in Laos, as the sport continues its global push.

"I first came to Laos in March 2012, and I started thinking of what would be a first-ever here," Sang-wook Je told the WBSC through an interpreter. Je is the Korean credited with bringing the game to the country.

Je moved to Laos following the suggestion of a friend. "My best friend lives in Hanoi, Vietnam. He often told me that he would move to Laos, if he had to relocate."

Je doesn't have a professional background in baseball.

"I simply started to play-catch with students in a parking lot at the university campus," said Le.

"I thought the game would help overcome cultural barriers (in Laos). Baseball is about cooperation, sacrifice and planning." - Korea's Sang-wook Je

It was January 2013 when Lee thought that former KBO All-Star catcher and manager Man-soo Lee was the man who could help him establish baseball in Laos. So Je simply e-mailed him.

"After three months I received an international phone call," Je recalled. "Man-soo Lee simply asked me how he could help and support me."

"At the time, I managed the SK Wyverns," confirmed Man-soo Lee through an interpreter. "I was in Spring Camp, and I soon forgot the e-mail. After the start of the season, I came across it again"

Lee told WBSC he was impressed by the idea of baseball helping students with difficult backgrounds in the capital city of Vientiane.

"So I got back to Mr Je. We met when he travelled to Korea. I understood they needed equipment and donated some."

And Je sent Lee the photos of the players wearing the gear he provided.

Things changed when Mr Lee retired from baseball: "I had chosen to spend time abroad with my family. However, it was my wife who suggested to keep the promise of helping the development of baseball in Laos."

The partnership between Mr Je and Mr Lee led to the founding of the Laos Baseball Association, which later would become the Lao Baseball Federation and a member of WBSC.

Mr Lee is currently the vice-president of the federation.

"Luckily, the government of Laos appreciated what we did. I also had the financial support of the Daegu Bank (DGB Financial Group). I want to thank CEO Tae-oh Kim."

The DGB Group support was instrumental to the building of the first-ever baseball stadium in the country.

"Currently, there are three baseball teams in Laos," said Man-soo Lee on a final note. "The Lao J Brothers are the original one. The Miracle of the National University was founded in April 2019. There's also a team at the Vientiane High School."

Sang-wook Je runs the programme as the federation CEO and coordinates things with the clubs directly.

"The programme is run thanks to two Korean coaches that came to Laos thanks to the support of the Korean Olympic Committee, the Ministry of Sport and the Korea Baseball Softball Association," Je said.

Sung-jung Ahn is one of the coaches. He grew up in Incheon and fell in love with baseball as a kid. He kept playing as a student in New Zealand.

"I joined baseball in Laos as a volunteer in 2014," Ahn told WBSC via e-mail. "I was supposed to stay for three months only. In November 2020, after attending a course in Korea and improving my skills at the Hakdong Elementary School, I had another chance."

Ahn is coaching men's and women's baseball at the National University of Laos.

"Players have minimal experience in baseball, but show a lot of passion and are improving a lot."

"I started playing in September 2019," said 21-year old Larkoy Phetvongaxay, a pitcher and a shortstop for the Miracle women's team at the university. "I've been practising baseball every day. I hope one day I will be able to play for my country in international competition."

Hue Vanhnathor, a 16-year old player for the Lao J Brothers, has played for almost four years.

"I was given the opportunity to work out in Korea with my team," said Vanhnathor. "Baseball is not an easy sport. You need to train hard to improve. If we try hard enough, I'm sure we will have the chance to represent Laos in the Asian Games. My dream is to compete in the Olympics one day."

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