Lee Dae-ho receives warm welcome in Busan

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Lee Dae-ho receives warm welcome in Busan

Lee Dae-ho of the Lotte Giants has returned to the Busan Sajik Baseball Stadium, with his return reigniting fans’ passion.

Although Lee did not play in the Giants’ first exhibition game against the SK Wyverns on Tuesday, 1,450 fans visited Sajik Stadium to watch Lee, who was present at the Sajik Stadium for the first time in 1,969 days, since the fifth playoff against the Wyverns on Oct. 23, 2011. But he did not make an appearance during the game.

After playing four years in the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) and a year in the Major League Baseball (MLB), Lee signed a four year contract with the Giants at 15 billion won ($13.1 million), making him the most expensive free agent in Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) history.

As Lee was born and raised in Busan, he made his KBO debut with the Giants in 2001 after graduating from Kyungnam High School. Since then, he became the Giant’s slugger for 11 years.

During Lee’s 11 seasons with the Giants, he recorded a 0.309 batting average with 225 home runs and 809 runs batted in (RBI). From 2008 to 2011, Lee’s prime, the Giants advanced to the postseason four times. As Lee won the batting title in 2010, he also became the first baseball player in the KBO to win seven batting titles.

While playing in the NPB, Lee recorded a 0.253 batting average with 98 home runs and 348 RBI. Continuing his success, when he played for the Seattle Mariners in the MLB, he recorded a 0.253 batting average with 14 home runs and 49 RBI.

With the addition of Lee, fans as well as the Giants have high expectations for this season.

“If we get off to a good start in the beginning of the season,” said Cho Won-woo, manager of the Giants, “we’ll be able to play in the fall.”

“I came to the stadium for the first time to watch Lee,” said Park Eun-hee, a spectator who visited the stadium with her daughter. “I hope Lee hits a lot of home runs and helps the Giants play in the fall.”

Prior to joining the Giants this season, Lee played for the Korean national team in the first round of World Baseball Classic (WBC). During the game against Chinese Taipei on Thursday last week, he got hit in the face by a baseball pitched at a speed of 144 kilometers (89 miles) per hour.

“I was hurt mentally more than physically,” Lee said. “I’m disappointed by the result at the WBC but it’s now time to focus on my games with the Giants.”

After the exhibition games, the Giants will play their first regular season game against the NC Dinos on March 31.

BY KIM WON [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]
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