“Heroes are my pride… “Above average goal in the big leagues”
Lee Jeong-hoo, Major League Challenger
“The fans were always behind me, so they were a huge help to me. I tried to make the fans proud and did my best on the field. No matter where I go, I will work hard and be proud of being from Heroes.”
On the 10th, when the professional baseball game between Kiwoom Heroes and Samsung Lions was held, Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul was more crowded than usual. 11,757 people gathered for the weekday evening match, which was far from the championship or the semifinal battle. After the game ended with Kiwoom’s victory, one player took the microphone. It was Lee Jeong-hoo, who appeared as a pinch hitter in the 8th inning and retired with a ground ball to third base.
Lee Jung-hoo’s seven-year career in the KBO League came to an end. As the son of legend Lee Jong-beom, he entered the professional ranks and received public attention, but soon he grew up to be Korea’s leading hitter and took on the challenge of playing in the major leagues.
It was expected. He didn’t have many places to climb in the country. Since his 2017 debut season, he has shocked the league with a batting average of 0.324 and 179 hits. He has grown without any jinx in his second year and surpassed 100 RBI for the first time in 2020. He even won the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) last season.
His ‘international dragon’ aspect has also been consistently proven. Starting with the 2017 Asian Professional Baseball Championship (APBC), where he earned his first adult Taegeuk mark, he went on to the Asian Games, Premier 12, Olympic Games, and World Baseball Classic (WBC). As the national team’s main hitter, he also played his part against world-class players.
The first time he pictured himself going abroad was two years ago. In a phone interview with Kookmin Ilbo on the 20th, Lee Jeong-hoo said, “I never dreamed of going overseas until I was in high school,” and “When he was young, it was just fun to play baseball with his friends.”
When he entered high school, he ‘grew up’ as he watched seniors struggling between professional careers and college. After realizing how high the wall of reality was, he started seriously pursuing his dream of becoming a professional athlete. Being a big leaguer was something far removed from that reality.
The reason I changed my mind was the Tokyo Olympics. The new experience was fun in the international competitions I had previously participated in, but my competitive spirit and confidence grew as I faced stronger opponents in Tokyo. He felt like, ‘I want to hit a ball like this every game on a bigger stage.’
After that, it was solid. Last season, he broke a career high and won five batting crowns (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, RBI, and most hits). The team also advanced to the Korean Series. He announced his intention to advance to the big leagues through a posting system (private competitive bidding) at the end of the 2023 season, and Kiwoom willingly gave permission.
This year, a trial came to him who had been on the road to success. During the first month after the opening, he fell into a batting slump. His monthly batting average was 0.218, the lowest since his debut. The team’s performance also dropped to 8th place. It was more of a mental aspect than a technical issue. Lee Jeong-hoo confessed, “I should have focused only on what I could do, but I couldn’t,” and “I also felt like the team was falling apart because of me.”
To make matters worse, an unexpected injury occurred in the summer. On July 22nd, when he was coming out of a slump and hitting hard, he was replaced due to ankle pain while playing defense against the Lotte Giants. The results of the examination showed that the extensor zone, the membrane surrounding his tendon, was damaged and he was put on the operating table. Not only did he leave his team’s lineup due to a season out, but he also returned the Taegeuk mark for the Asian Games.
The growing interest of major league clubs ahead of overseas expansion may have led to impatience. Lee Jeong-hoo firmly shook his head at this question. He added, “Isn’t it true that they are trying to take him after only seeing one year this year?” and added, “I just thought I should do what I was doing (before the season).”
Lee Jeong-hoo said of the ups and downs of this season, “It was a good experience.” At first, he felt resentful and thought, ‘Why does this happen?’, but he changed his mind to a more positive one. It is said that he grew again through the first slump he experienced after his professional debut and the process of rebounding from it. His nature to think about what needs to be done in the future rather than looking back at the past also played a role.
In addition, the presence of parents, teammates, seniors and juniors, and coaching staff were a great help. Of course, there was support from fans. Lee Jeong-hoo expressed his gratitude, saying, “Everyone always believed in me and gave me strength, so I felt like I had to repay the favor quickly.”
His family gave him full support as he chose a challenge instead of a guaranteed path. His father, Lee Jong-beom, coach of the LG Twins, who attempted to play on the Japanese stage during his days as a player, also gave him advice to ‘brace your heart.’ Lee Jeong-hoo explained, “Why don’t you go to a place alone without friends or family?” and “You said that life itself would be very difficult before baseball.”
An old teammate also offered words of support. Kim Ha-seong, who is from Kiwoom like Lee Jeong-hoo and first established himself in the big league through postings, previously returned to Korea via Incheon Airport on the 11th and commented on Lee Jeong-hoo as “a close to perfect hitter.” When asked by reporters if he had anything to say, he also praised him as an outstanding junior to the extent that he had nothing to offer advice on.
Lee Jeong-hoo himself humbled himself, saying, “Compared to the players there (big league), aren’t they all lacking?” and “I will try to improve after meeting them first.” However, he did not hide his aspirations. He said, “I don’t want to remain an average player in that league. He emphasized, “I want to become a better player than that,” and “He may still be lacking a lot, but I believe he can grow further as he is young.”
If advancement is accomplished, his top priority is securing Ron’s starting position. Since playing as a starting player in the big league itself is a big challenge, he will think about it later. As for the pitcher he would like to face, he chose big league senior Ryu Hyun-jin.
After completing his seven-year KBO league career, he expressed his affection for his team, saying he did his best at every moment. He also emphasized, “If it weren’t for our team, I wouldn’t have been able to grow like this.” He said he had no regrets, but the only regret he confessed was not being able to win a championship as a member of Kiwoom. That’s why he chose last year’s postseason as his most memorable moment. His rookie year, when he first entered the professional world, and 2019, another season in which he entered the Korean Series, were also specially meaningful times for him.
He repeatedly bowed his head to his fans, saying, ‘I am truly grateful.’ Lee Jeong-hoo emphasized, “The biggest reason I wanted to return from injury (before the season ended) was because of the fans,” and added, “I was able to work harder on my rehabilitation because I didn’t want to show my last days limping on the ground.” did.
I asked Lee Jeong-hoo what the days he spent at Kiwoom meant to him. The answer came back, ‘I was in my early to mid 20s and it was a time I will never forget until I die.’안전놀이터 “I think I spent my youth well by joining a really good club. I did my best and felt proud. “I think we met good people and had a good time.”