Korea to host U-18 baseball tourney

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Korea to host U-18 baseball tourney

Korea will host its first world youth baseball championship in Seoul starting this week, as its teenage prospects go up against players from across the globe.

The country will host the U-18 Baseball World Championship, organized by the International Baseball Federation (IBAF), from Thursday until Sept. 8.

The first edition of this championship was held in 1981 and this year’s is the 25th edition. Korea is a five-time champion.

All matches will be held at Jamsil and Mokdong Stadiums, both in Seoul. Korea has been paired with the United States, Venezuela, the Netherlands, Australia and Colombia in Group A. Group B includes defending champion Taiwan, Canada, Panama, the Czech Republic, Italy and Japan.

The Korean roster of 20 players will be led by pitcher Yoon Hyoung-bae, the first overall pick at last week’s draft for the Korea Baseball Organization, the country’s top professional baseball league.

The right-hander helped his Bugil High School in Cheonan, about 90 kilometers (56 miles) south of Seoul in South Chungcheong, win two national titles in the past two seasons. Over his three-year high school career, Yoon threw 177 2/3 innings in 43 games, going 18-3 with 197 strikeouts and an earned run average (ERA) of 1.17.

Yoon made most of his appearances as a starter, but he said he is ready to pitch in any situation.

“I’ve always wanted to compete at an international event, so that I could test myself against players from different countries,” the 18-year-old said. “I don’t care what kind of role I am asked to play. Whenever I am asked to pitch, I will do my best.”

Lee Jeong-hoon, the national team manager, is also the manager for Bugil High School, which has six players in total on the under-18 squad. Lee said the tournament will be “an opportunity to promote the excellence of Korean baseball to the rest of the world.”

In the past, Korea’s pro baseball has fed off the national teams’ international success. In 1982, the country hosted and won the Amateur World Series, the predecessor of the Baseball World Cup, which was held in the inaugural season of the KBO. The country’s gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the runner-up finish at the 2009 World Baseball Classic have helped usher in an era of unprecedented popularity for the KBO.

The league is on pace to break the single-season attendance record for the fourth consecutive season and surpass seven million fans for the first time in history.

The previous Korean championship teams at the under-18 tournament have produced a slew of current and former KBO All-Stars. Lee Seung-yeop, slugger for the Samsung Lions who holds the single-season home run record of 56, was a star pitcher on the 1994 squad.

In 2000, Choo Shin-soo, right fielder for the Cleveland Indians in Major League Baseball, was joined by Lee Dae-ho, a former KBO MVP currently playing for the Orix Buffaloes in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball.

Kim Kwang-hyun, left-hander for the KBO’s SK Wyverns and the league MVP in 2008, was the ace on the 2006 championship team.

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