Korean captain hopes for different fate
Lee eager to avenge defeat against Taipei as Classic opens
By Stephen Ellsesser / Special to MLB.com
Korea's captain for the World Baseball Classic, the outfielder remembers walking off the field in Sapporo, Japan, in 2003 after Korea lost in the Olympic qualifiers. It was a close, tight game, and the Koreans fell late. Chiense Taipei was the victor.
"We couldn't reach the Olympics, and now I know I will have to be concentrated until the last out, through the whole game," Lee said. "They beat us, but I don't think we will lose this time. I want to walk off the field with no regrets."
Lee's attitude heading into the World Baseball Classic is by no means singular.
"Beating Taipei is my personal goal," said Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Hee-Seop Choi. "All I want to do is beat them. We will get the runs we need. We just need to beat them."
Korea gets started in the Classic against Chinese Taipei, but Pool A's marquee game in the eyes of fans is Sunday night's finale against Japan. That kind of attention gives San Diego Padres pitcher Chan Ho Park pride about the progress of Korean baseball.
"If Japan considers us a rival, as members of the Korean team, that means we are a strong team," Park said. "We will play Japan, and one of us will win. For me, it will be a splendid experience."
Japan will start Chiba Lotte Marines pitcher Shunsuke Watanabe against Korea, according to manager Sadaharu Oh, and the Koreans have a healthy respect for the submarine pitcher.
"The ball is not very fast, but he is a very good player," Korea manager In-Sik Kim said. "We should have a strategy for his submarine release, but I can't talk about it to the press."
Watanabe was named outstanding pitcher of the Japan Series last season, earning notice from his country and the outside world alike.
"I saw him on TV, and he is great," Lee said. "He throws from so close to the ground, it makes it tough on the batter. I will have to study and do something about it."
Korea has yet to announce its starters for any Classic game. Park will likely start against either Taipei or Japan, and Dodgers hurler Jae Seo is expected to start as well.
Stephen Ellsesser is a reporter for The Japan Times and a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.