Lee swinging out with Tokyo’s giants
“I am ready for it. I will win the competition for first base position. If I didn’t have such determination, I wouldn’t have joined Yomiuri,” Lee said at a press conference after the signing.
“I am honored to be on a team that I have liked since I was young,” he added.
Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara complimented Lee for having “a lot of energy and sportsmanship.” He said “He was remarkable with the Chiba Lotte Marines for the last two years. I want Yomiuri to be born again with him.”
Some have noted it is hard for foreign players to survive at Yomiuri, but this did not deter Lee. He played first base with the Samsung Lions, but had to become a designated hitter with Lotte as it already had a first baseman in Kazuya Fukuura. Lee said his desire to play in his main position and the possibility that this would happen with Yomiuri led him to make this decision.
“I felt relieved when I signed the contract, though I agonized over loyalty issues and am sorry to Lotte for breaking my promise. I was worried because a promise is taken very seriously in Japan. Also Korean players have been unlucky with Yomiuri, but I am determined to do well,” Lee said.
Korean players who have played for Yomiuri raised some concerns, however, saying Yomiuri is a team that is representative of Japanese baseball and has a clannish sentiment.
“It will be hard to survive. Yomiuri doesn’t want foreign players like Lee playing better than Japanese players. Because it is close to a national team, it doesn’t want to show that foreign players, especially Korean players, can be better than them. In Yomiuri, foreigners are just extras,” said Hyundai Unicorn’s Chung Min-tae, who played for the team between 2000 and 2002.
Cho Sung-min of the Hanwha Eagles, a pitcher who played for Yomiuri between 1997 and 2002, was more optimistic, saying, “Lee has an 80-percent chance to hit more than 30 home runs.”
“Lee played in Japan for two years and the Central League (to which Yomiuri belongs) ballparks are smaller than Pacific League (to which Lotte belongs) ballparks. Lee hit 30 homers last year and he can do more,” Cho said.
However, both Cho and Chung agreed there is no room for second chances with Yomiuri. It has a lot of money and many good players, and the slightest mistake, poor performance or injury would result in him losing his starting position.
by Lee Tae-il