Veteran catcher stunned by improbable power surgeLG Twins' backup catcher Lee Sung-woo had just four home runs in 512 games in the KBO prior to this season.
Then in 15 games this year, most of them coming off the bench, Lee has already hit three home runs.
So what gives?
"I don't even know what's going on with me," Lee said Thursday, shaking his head as he discussed his third home run of the young season against the SK Wyverns at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in southern Seoul.
Lee's solo shot Thursday broke a 3-3 tie in the bottom seventh of the second game of the teams' double header. But when he made contact, Lee wasn't sure if he'd hit it hard enough.
"I am not a home run hitter, so I don't really know how my hands are supposed to feel on a home run," Lee said with a smile. "I didn't think I got enough of the ball. So I just started running hard."
And there was another reason that Lee went full speed, even as the third base umpire, Choi Young-joo, made a circle above his head to signal a home run.
Lee's fly ball touched the tip of left fielder Choi Ji-hoon's outstretched glove before it bounced off the stairwell in the stands and landed on left field grass. But Lee never saw the ball go over the fence.
"I saw the left fielder jump, and I figured the ball hit the top of the fence and came back," Lee said. Then with a chuckle, Lee added, "I've never hit a triple my whole career, and I thought this was my chance to finally get one."
The long journey Lee has taken through the league to this point is nothing to laugh about. He signed with the SK Wyverns as an undrafted free agent in 2005 but made his KBO debut with the Kia Tigers three years later. He didn't play much with the Tigers, getting as few as eight at-bats in one season.
The Wyverns brought him back before the 2017 season, and Lee appeared in a career-high 88 games in 2018. Then it was off to the Twins for 2019. He played in 55 games, including 19 in a start, and batted only 0.156.
Lee, who will turn 39 in about three months, said it "wouldn't be the strangest thing if I retired right now." Though he's batting a robust 0.400 this year, with three of his six hits having gone for home runs in 15 at-bats, Lee knows he will only be playing once or twice a week, at most, behind starting catcher Yoo Kang-nam. Lee only started the second game of Thursday's double header because Yoo played the first one in scorching heat and manager Ryu Joong-il wanted to give him a breather.
As his career winds down, Lee is trying to find joy in small things. To wit: Lee said he was happy he wasn't lifted for a pinch hitter Thursday, something that has happened to Lee too many times to count.
Lee has always been a defensive-minded catcher. That he's stuck around as long as he has despite limited offensive upside is a testament to his defense, not to mention his perseverance.
Lee was typecast as a defense-first catcher so early in his career that he never got a chance to hone his hitting skills.
"Most of my hitting coaches never spent enough time with me to work on mechanics, and they just told me to keep working on my defense," Lee said. "Everything I know about hitting, I've basically taught myself."
Late last season, one veteran Twins teammate stepped in to fill that coaching void for Lee.