“Many fans want to wear SoftBank uniforms again”
Dae-ho Lee throws out the ceremonial pitch prior to the Nippon Professional Baseball 2023 game between the SoftBank Hawks and the Chiba Lotte Marines at the Fukuoka PayPay Dome in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan on April 28.
Lee led SoftBank to two Japan Series titles in 2014 and 2015. In his two years with SoftBank, Lee hit .314 with 50 home runs, 166 RBIs and a .292 OPS of .858 in 285 games, most notably in 2015, when he was named the first Korean to win the Japan Series with the Yakult Swallows.
SoftBank honored Lee on the 85th anniversary of the club’s founding and the 30th anniversary of the PayPay Dome’s opening, and he was on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for Game 28 after seeing his close junior Yuki Yanagita hit a game-winning single in the bottom of the 12th inning of extra innings on Game 27 to give SoftBank the win.
SoftBank welcomed Lee with a special video featuring the chant “Dae-ho Dae-ho Dae-ho,” as well as a rendition of the song “Orialda” from his KBO 안전놀이터 days. Akira Nakamura, who ate hanbap during his playing days, was the first pitcher and SoftBank’s “signature player” Yanagita was the batting lead. After the first pitch, SoftBank fans applauded and cheered for Lee Dae-ho.
The Japanese media was also eager to cover his first visit to Fukuoka in eight years. As soon as Dae-ho Lee finished the ceremony and headed to the interview room, the Japanese media began to ask him questions. The first question they asked was how he felt about meeting his former teammates, including Yanagita and Nakamura. Lee couldn’t help but smile at the growth of his former teammates, including Akira Nakamura and Yuki Yanagita.
Nakamura, who joined SoftBank through the 2007 draft and made his debut in 2011, has been a regular starter ever since, while Yanagita has gone beyond SoftBank to become a “signature star” of Nippon Professional Baseball. When Lee visited the PayPay Dome on July 27, it was Nakamura and Yanagita who greeted him the most.
“Yanagita, Kai (Takuya), and Nakamura are players I played with when I was younger, but now they’re older. I’m also old now and retired. It’s great to see them at such a senior age, just like when I was at SoftBank,” he says with a smile, “especially seeing Yanagita leading the team so well.”
“I still think of Yanagita as a cheeky junior,” said Lee Dae-ho. “We talked for a short time, but it was too much to take in. We talked for a short time, but it was so nice to see her. I jokingly asked her, ‘Why do you grow your hair,’ and she said, ‘It’s Korean style,’ and it was so nice to hear that she enjoyed it.”
Among the many questions that were asked, the one that caught his attention was, “Many fans in Fukuoka want Dae-ho Lee to wear a SoftBank uniform again. Lee’s witty response, “If SoftBank makes a formal request, I’m ready to make the body,” drew laughter from the interviewers.
The Japanese media also asked how foreign players can succeed in Nippon Professional Baseball. Dae-ho Lee replied, “It’s really hard. It’s hard to speak, hard to eat. And it’s very stressful when you don’t get results. Japanese pitchers don’t make it easy for you to win. If you don’t win, you have to throw away bad pitches, and you have to swing for the fences because you want to hit home runs and get RBIs. If I change this part of my game, I will be able to have a good match against Japanese players.”
Finally, when asked if he could recommend any Korean dramas to Hiroshi Fujimoto, Lee said, “Romantic Doctor Kim Sabu,” and then repeated, “Romantic Doctor Kim Sabu,” and ended the interview with a smile.