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Returning Lee`s Fever

Posted June. 16, 2003 22:01,   


In 1999, "Lee Seung-yop fever" swept the whole nation. It is likely to "hit" the nation again in four years.

Lee is about to set a new record: youngest player hitting the career 300th home run. In the past 57 games, he has punched 30 home run only this season. On average, he hits 0.

526 home run a game. With the pace continued, he is likely to hit at least 70 home runs by the end of this season. His previous record of season 54 home runs is about to be broken.

Also on the upward move is the whole pro baseball league in Korea.

Lee`s fever raked in 31.3 billion won for a single week in 1999.

His name was heard all the time in newspapers and magazines, and on TV and radio in 1999. Whenever people gathered, they talked about the possibility of Lee`s setting a new Korean record. South Koreans were immersed in baseball at that time.

Se Ri Pak`s winning of four majors including the US Open in 1998 was estimated at 210 billion won. On the other hand, Lee reportedly created an economic value amounting to 31.3 billion won for one week during which he set a new record by hitting his season 43rd home run.

At that time, few South Koreans would take in baseball games. It was in slump for three years. For the whole year of 1998, 2,633,119 people visited ballparks. But in 1999, a total of 3.220,624 fans took in baseball games, an increase by 581,505.

At that time, an IT company posted a 100 million won award for his season 56th home run ball, which was a new Asian record. Later, out of security concerns, Samsung and the company agreed to set up a scholarship foundation in Lee`s name with the fund. But the episode tells a lot about the fever.

In comparison with the "previous fever," the response from the fans is still in an early stage. But, after the 300th homer, Lee will keep punching homers and, accordingly, fans are getting more and more enthusiastic.

But Daegu has already been engulfed in that fever. Over the three-game series, an average of 8,824 people visited Daegu ballpark. Deagu ballpark had hosted an average of 5,420 fans this season.

"I thought it was less enthusiastic than in 1999. Looking at the crowd of fans on the stand, I realized I was wrong. I just got excited," said Lee. KBO official Yang Hae-young expectedly said, "Lee will rejuvenate the zeal for baseball among South Koreas. He will contribute a lot."

Lee, however, is not likely to set the 300th home run record during the three-game series against LG this week. That will take place at the Chomsil Ballpark, which is most similar to a US ML ballpark in size among Korean ballparks. Lee, due to the big size, has not hit a single home run there. Next weekend, he will stand at bat against SK, which takes place in much smaller Daegu ballpark, which is like those in Japan.

For this reason, his 300th home run will come out in the latter series.

Sang-Soo Kim ssoo@donga.com