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Lee Ji-poong has found success by helping KBO players stay in shape

Nov 08,2019
Lee Ji-poong may not be a star pitcher that picked up 20 wins or a manager who led a club to the championship title, but he is one of the most-wanted training coaches in the KBO.

SK Wyverns training coach Lee Ji-poong poses for a photo at Munhak Baseball Stadium in Incheon on Tuesday. [KIM KYUNG-ROK]
Normally, training coaches in the KBO don’t receive much attention, but Lee is clearly a different case. When Lee parted ways with the KT Wiz last month, baseball fans called for their clubs to hire him as their training coach. In the end, it was the SK Wyverns that managed to recruit Lee.

“I didn’t get detailed offers from other clubs, except for SK,” Lee said. “I think that’s from my image that I’m hard to work with, because I have a strong belief of my own in terms of training.”

Lee started his training career with the Hyundai Unicorns in 2004, but it wasn’t until the 2014 season, with the Nexen Heroes, that he started to receive attention. Throughout the 2014 season, the Heroes saw a significant increase in home runs from the previous year, from 125 to 199 for the team.

That year, Park Byung-ho hit 52 home runs, while Kang Jung-ho, who now plays for the Milwaukee Brewers’ minor league affiliate, hit 40 home runs. Yoo Han-joon shows the most remarkable improvement of all. He hit 20 home runs in 2014, despite only getting seven in 2013.

Lee makes a personalized training program for each of his players and helps them bulk up.

He proved that the Heroes’ improvement wasn’t just luck. When he joined the Wiz, Lee worked his magic once again. Under Lee, the Wiz saw a big increase in the team’s home runs in their first season with him in 2018. The Wiz hit 119 home runs throughout the 2017 season, and in 2018 they managed to hit 206.

The players did seem to have benefited from Lee’s training programs. Other than just weight training, Lee also helps his players with injury prevention, diet and mental game.

Since Wyverns manager Yeom Kyung-yup has worked with Lee before, when he was the Heroes’ manager, he was well aware of Lee’s ability as a training coach. As soon as the Wyverns’ season ended, Yeom tried to appoint Lee.

“As our players got tired in the summer, their batting got worse,” said the Wyverns general manager Son Cha-hoon. “And since that continued until the end of the season, we lost our win. We have expectations for coach Lee.”

Just as Son said, the Wyverns were on a streak until July, where they led the league with a 0.670 winning percentage. But that number started to go down to 0.520, fifth, in August, and in September it went all the way down to 0.444, eighth. Due to this, the Wyverns ended up losing the pennant race to the Doosan Bears.

“Physical condition [for the season] depends on how they prepare from November to February,” Lee said. “I’m going to meet the players individually and make a detailed program. SK picked up 88 wins this year. They’re already a good team. Since I have to do something to make them better, I have a lot of pressure. I’ll work hard until they can wear the championship ring on all 10 fingers.”

As the clubs got to see improvement from their players with Lee, he raised the awareness of the importance of training coaches in baseball. Before Lee, training coaches were looked down upon by other coaches or staff in the KBO.

“The starting salary was about 20 million won ($17,000),” Lee said. “There are a lot more trainers that received in the 10 million won range. Looking at the KBO and Futures League teams, there were only about two to four training coaches per franchise.”

But once the major league’s weight training started receiving attention, the KBO started providing more support for their training staff.

“Over the past 15 years, my annual income quadrupled,” Lee said. “Our staff also doubled.”

Looking at the KBO, Kim Yong-il was the league’s first training coach. Kim is well known for training Ryu Hyun-jin, who became a free agent after completing his sixth season with the Los Angeles Dodgers last month. Ryu underwent shoulder surgery back in 2015 and Kim helped Ryu make a successful return to the major league.

BY PARK SO-YOUNG [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]


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