After an eight-year absence from the SoftBank Hawks, Lee Dae-ho responded to fans’ pleas to rejoin the team with a smile.
Before the game against the Chiba Lotte Marines at the Fukuoka PayPay Dome in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan, on Monday, Lee made a 메이저사이트 ceremonial pitch to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the club’s founding and the 30th anniversary of the stadium’s opening. Yuki Yanagita batted and Akira Nakamura caught, reuniting with former teammates for the first time in a long time.
Speaking to the Japanese press after the pitch, Lee said, “Thank you for inviting me to such a great event. I’m glad I was able to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. It was great to see the players after a long time,” he said after the ceremony.
“Korean fans used to come a lot when I was here, but now they don’t seem to come as much,” he said, adding, “I hope Korean fans will come to Fukuoka and enjoy themselves as much as possible.”
Lee played for SoftBank in 2014 and 2015, leading them to back-to-back Japan Series titles. Yuki Yanagita, who was a rising star at the time, along with Takuya Kai, Akira Nakamura, and Taisei Makihara, are now SoftBank’s mainstays.
“I’m old and retired now, but it’s great to see players who were young when I was there are now seniors and leading the team,” Lee said.
Lee has a particularly close relationship with Yanagita. Yanagita even sent a video congratulating Lee on his retirement at the KBO All-Star Game last year, which kicked off Lee’s retirement tour. When asked about Yanagita, Lee Dae-ho said, “I still think of him as a goofy junior,” adding, “It’s just fun to see him now. It was great to meet him yesterday, even if it was only for a short time.” “I jokingly asked him why he wore his hair like that, and he joked that it was ‘Korean style,’ so it was nice to see him enjoy it so much,” he said, adding that when he recounted the episode with Yanagita on the 27th, the Japanese interviewers laughed along with him and enjoyed the relationship between the two players.
When asked what SoftBank means to him, Lee said, “I had a great time for two years. I won the championship both years. Especially the first year was hard because the championship wasn’t decided until the last game, but I was really happy that we clinched the championship in the last game and won the Japan Series. I learned a lot about baseball while playing with good players and a good front office.”
SoftBank has been underperforming with foreign players this season. When asked about the secret to success as a foreign player, Lee Dae-ho said, “It’s really hard for foreign players. It’s hard to speak, hard to eat. And when they don’t perform well, there is a lot of stress and pressure. Japanese pitchers don’t give them good pitches so they can perform well. If the pitcher doesn’t give you a good pitch, you should be able to pick up a strikeout. I think your swing is bigger because you’re always trying to hit home runs and get RBIs. If you change that mindset, you’ll be able to play better.” He joked that fans are asking him to come back to SoftBank, but he laughed and said, “If SoftBank makes a formal offer, I’m ready to build a body.”