Former slugger fights to recapture his formOKINAWA, Japan - As Lee Seung-yeop of the Orix Buffaloes enters the final phase of offseason training, the 35-year-old first baseman is eager to perfect his new swing in time for the season opener.
Lee had one hit in his first training-camp exhibition game against his former team, the Daegu Samsung Lions, on Saturday.
During his days with the Lions, Lee established himself as a premier slugger, setting the single-season Asian home run record in 2003 with 56 homers. He joined the Nippon Professional Baseball league’s Chiba Lotte Marines in 2004 and went on to sign with the Yomiuri Giants in 2006, garnering his best NPB season with 41 home runs and 108 RBI that same year. But Lee’s production began to taper off in 2008 when injuries cut his playing time.
Lee, along with former Major League pitcher Park Chan-ho, signed with the Buffaloes late last year and the veteran first baseman is looking to get his career back on track in the upcoming season. To do that, Lee has been working with the Orix coaching staff to tweak his swing.
“We didn’t make any changes to my swing mechanism,”Lee said. “We merely worked on fixing habits that I’ve acquired over the years.”
Lee has decreased his bat weight from 920 grams (32.45 ounces) to 900 grams to compensate for the loss of bat speed that has accompanied the new swing. Lee is also focusing on his timing.
“Getting the timing down is the most important and difficult aspect of baseball,” said Lee. “I’ve been watching some of my old videos and noticed I’ve lacked patience at the plate in recent years. I’ll wait a little more on pitches before attempting to make contact.”
Once considered among the top sluggers in Asia, Lee has had to deal with an assortment of injuries and a three-season slump.
“I got the sense that Lee Seung-yeop had become cautious at the plate because of the tough stretch he went through over the past three seasons,” said Yang Joon-hyuk, former teammate and SBS ESPN color commentator.
Said MBC Sports color commentator Huh Koo-yeon: “Lee experienced problems keeping his balance when pitchers threw at him high and in. With a tweaked swing, he should be on track to take care of such shortcomings.”
The biggest challenge for Lee will be to have faith in his new swing and to stick with it throughout the season.
“No one knows for certain whether it will work out or not, but I will not give up,” he said. “I feel at ease at this point.”
By Huh Jin-woo [email@example.com]