Legacy of Lions slugger Lee evident at new home stadium
As the train pulls up at Daegu Grand Park Station, Lee’s voice announces the arrival at the Lions new stadium. The walkway to the arena is named “Road of the Legend” to commemorate Lee’s contribution to the team.
Lee joined the Lions in 1995 after graduating from Kyeongbuk High School in Daegu. He played in Daegu Baseball Stadium, which was the Lions’ home from 1982 to 2015. This was where Lee became one of the most outstanding sluggers in Korean baseball history. When Lee returned to Korea from Japan in 2012, it was the city of Daegu and the old stadium that welcomed him with open arms.
After a disappointing loss to the Doosan Bears in the Korean series last year, Lee and his team moved to the newly built Daegu Samsung Lions Park. For Lee, the upcoming season will be his first and perhaps last at the stadium, as he plans to retire in 2017. With the modern training facilities and all the amenities it offers, Lee is excited to begin the last stage of his professional baseball career at the location.
Q. How does it feel moving to a brand new stadium?
A. I am happy. More than anything else, I am excited to train in the state-of-the-art training facilities. The facilities including the locker room and the indoor practice field are much nicer compared to the old ones. The training facilities in the old stadium were dilapidated and poor.
Weren’t you sad to leave your old stomping grounds?
I left with a light heart. I have good memories there, of course, but it was difficult to get ready for the new season properly because of the old and worn-down training facilities. I might have been disheartened if I was traded to some other team and forced to finish my career there. But I am still a Lions man, so I was pleased to move to the new home.
You must have many good memories from the old stadium. Can you talk about some of them?
There are just way too many to speak of, such as the game-tying home run in the sixth game of the 2002 Korean Series and my record-breaking 56th season home run in 2003. I cannot pick out just one as my favorite. I don’t think I really have any bad memories, though.
You were very passionate about the new stadium. Why is that?
I mean, Daegu Baseball Stadium was much too old. Actually, I had heard the franchise would relocate there ever since I joined the team in 1995. But they postponed the relocation each year for two decades. We actually saw a rat in our old locker room and that freaked me out. When we wanted to warm up before a game, we couldn’t do it properly. The old and shabby locker room was the only place where we could eat, rest and shower. I am thrilled to be able to spend at least a year in the state-of-the-art stadium.
You said in the old stadium that you were often unable to express your gratitude to the fans after the game. How will that change?
The new stadium is more inviting than the old one. In the old one, we had to rush out of the field after each game because if the fans rushed down near the field to get our autographs, it could have led to serious accidents. Now that the stadium has some safety measures in place, I think it will be easier for the fans to approach us and vice versa after the game. Also, as a father, I want to be able to provide for our younger fans.
You did some additional training on the indoor practice field. How was that?
You have no idea how excited I am to be able to practice without getting wet when it rains. In the past, we couldn’t practice much when it rained or after a game when it got dark. Now, we can practice indoors anytime we want. Since I am a designated hitter, I think I can just stay and practice indoors until it’s my turn on the plate (laughing).
During the games in spring training, eight of the 11 balls you hit travelled far. Were you still not satisfied?
I guess baseball is a difficult game to play seeing that even someone like me who’s been playing for years becomes agitated before each game and season. You just cannot help but cling on to the record. Each time I stand on the batter’s box is stressful in itself. I think I need to approach this game with a more relaxed mindset. Good results naturally put me at ease, though.
What do you expect from the new stadium?
I am certain that we will draw larger crowds to our games, which means the stakes will be higher for us to do our best. Loud applause and cheers really boost our spirit during the games. We will reciprocate their support with more victories and better performances. All that’s left for me to do now is play good baseball.
BY LEE HYUNG-SEOK [email@example.com]
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