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Lion King begins his final season with a roar

Apr 04,2017
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Left, the watch will be given to a fan that catches Lee Seung-yuop’s homerun at Daegu Samsung Lions Park. Right, Lee Seung-yuop, first baseman for Samsung Lions of KBO. [SAMSUNG LIONS]
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Lee Seung-yuop of Samsung Lions started his final season last weekend.

Lee, who was the fifth designated hitter against the Kia Tigers on Sunday, hit his first home run of the season at the Samsung Lions Park against Kim Yoon-dong, starting pitcher for the Tigers. Lee’s home run, which went over the right fence, allowed the Lions to break the 0-0 tie and take the lead in the second.

As Lee led the team with two hits, including a home run, and four runs batted in, others responded to help the Lions win against the Tigers, 16-3. Yun Sung-hwan, starting pitcher for the Lions, was the winning pitcher, allowing three runs in six innings.

Prior to the season, Lee announced his retirement.

“When I joined the Lions, my number was 36 so I always thought of retiring at 36,” Lee said. “But instead, I’m 42 now in Korean age. I played six years more than I wanted to. I achieved my goal.”

Lee’s home runs add up to be his greatest career accomplishment. It was his 444th home run in his Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) career, and including 158 home runs he hit during eight years of playing at Nippon Professional Baseball, it was his 602nd home run. The number cannot be compared with anyone yet as Yang Joon-hyuk, former player for the Lions, is second in career home runs at 351.

Putting aside his success, Lee is quietly preparing his retirement but the fans and his teammates are still expecting to see more home runs. After Park Suk-min and Choi Hyung-woo left to other teams over the past two years, Lee’s responsibility has grown.

As this is Lee’s last year, the Lions decided to give a luxury watch to each fan who catches one of Lee’s home runs during his 72 home games. Last year, Lee showed tremendous batting strength, hitting 27 home runs.

To hit more home runs this season, Lee made changes to his swing by lifting his right leg higher to transfer his weight. But since he wasn’t able to see any improvements with his new swing in spring training, he went back to his usual compact swing. And it only took him three games to produce a home run with his compact swing.

“I want to play the remaining games without injuries,” Lee said. “Each and every single game is special to me.”

Choi, who transferred to the Kia Tigers from the Lions, also hit his first home run of the season in the fourth while the Tigers were losing 4-0.

Looking at the KBO opening weekend, the LG Twins won all three away games against the Nexen Heroes at the Gocheok Sky Dome in western Seoul. This is the first time in 17 years that the Twins have won all three games at the start of the season.

Kt Wiz, entering its third season in the KBO, also won all three games for the first time. In Changwon, after losing the first game of the season, Lotte Giants redeemed themselves by winning two games against NC Dinos. It was an impressive effort from the Giants when compared to their 2016 head-to-head record of one win and 15 losses.

At Jamsil, Doosan Bears won against Hanwha Eagles 5-4 in twelve inning on Sunday, winning two of three games over the weekend. The Twins and Wiz now lead with three wins and no losses.

BY PARK SO-YOUNG [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]