Manager rumors swirl around Lee Jeong-hoon

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Manager rumors swirl around Lee Jeong-hoon

Lee Jeong-hoon, the manager of Team Korea at the U-18 Baseball World Championship, said yesterday his priority is winning the prestigious international event, putting aside growing speculations that he will become the next manager of the Hanwha Eagles.

Lee, a former Eagles star, has emerged as a strong candidate to replace Han Dae-hwa, who resigned as manager on Tuesday with one month left in what will likely go down as one of the worst seasons in the Daejeon club’s history.

“I saw the articles about a new Hanwha manager,” Lee, 49, said at a press conference held a day before the opening of the U-18 Baseball World Championship, an event Korea is hosting. “They disturbed me, but ahead of a big event, I don’t have the luxury to be bothered by personal things.”

Lee won the Korea Baseball Organization’s batting title in 1991 and 1992 when he played for the Binggrae Eagles, the predecessor of the Hanwha Eagles, but he also has a shining resume as a coach.

After retiring from the professional league, he was hired as a batting coach for the Eagles in 1999, when the club won its first-ever Korean Series title. In 2008, he took the helm of Bugil High School in Cheonan, South Chungcheong, and has led the top amateur baseball program to three national championship and three runner-up titles.

He has been mentioned for years as a possible Hanwha manager. The foundation owning Bugil High School is an affiliate of Hanwha Group, the sponsor of the Eagles. At 39 victories against 64 losses, the Eagles sit at the bottom of the eight-team KBO standings.

Kim Sung-keun, the former SK Wyverns manager who was also considered a strong candidate to replace Han, renewed yesterday his two-year contract with the Goyang Wonders, an independent team playing in Korea Baseball Futures League.

Lee said he has not heard anything from the Eagles, whom are rumored to be planning to offer the manager position after the U-18 Baseball World Championship. The youth event, organized by the International Baseball Federation, will run until Sept. 8.

Korea has participated in the biennial competition 18 times since 1981 and won five times as far as 2008.

“We have prepared well and our players remain good in condition,” Lee said. “This is a home game, so we will aim to win it.”

Korea won the inaugural event held in the United States in 1981. It also won in 1994, 2000 and 2006.

“With a victory at this event, we will live up to the seniors’ achievements,” Lee said. “We will play like its either to live or die, and we will let the world know about Korean baseball.”

A total of 12 countries are attending the Seoul event and Korea is paired with the United States, Australia, Colombia, the Netherlands and Venezuela in Group A. Korea’s first group match will be against the Netherlands at Jamsil Stadium at 2 p.m. today.

Defending champion Taiwan and Japan are paired with Canada, Panama, the Czech Republic and Italy in Group A.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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