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Korean Baseball Stars Have Namesakes

Posted February. 07, 2007 07:05,   


Although Lee Seung-yeop (Yomiuri Giants) and Lee Byung-gyu (Chunichi Dragons) have been transferred to the Japanese league, their namesakes are still playing in Korea.

“So, your name is?” “It’s Lee Seung-yeop.” “Are you telling me that you’re the baseball player Lee Seung-yeop?” “Yes, I am.” “That’s a silly joke.”

There’s hardly a person in the country who doesn’t know about Lee Seung-yeop (31), who plays in Yomiuri’s jersey in the Japanese league. But not many know that there’s another Lee Seung-yeop who has been mostly overshadowed by the more famous one.

Playing for Doosan Bears, this Lee Seung-yeop is a 25-year-old outfielder in the second year of his career. When he was on a blind date in college, he got into trouble because of the national star who shared his name. He had to show his ID card to cope with the situation. Even the Hanja letters (Chinese characters) on which their names are based on are identical.

Last year, when he first joined Doosan, his colleagues called him “a big-name brand,” comparing him to the other Lee Seung-yeop. Great expectations were placed on him as he had the same name as him, seemed to be as talented in hitting as him, and batted left-handed just like him.

But when he was given a chance to play in the majors, he failed to produce a single hit in 11 at bats. Since then, he has been dubbed a counterfeit. Some made even harsher criticisms, saying, “There is nothing but the name he took after.”

If he were a weak-minded person, he could have been hurt seriously, but he remains bright and brisk. “At first, it was a little uncomfortable listening to those comparisons, but now I got used to them.”

After picking up an injury on his left shoulder ligament in a game in the minors late last year, he has been working out in a rehabilitation program. For this reason, he was unable to join the team’s overseas training camp. He said, “I have to admit that I was idle in training last year. But I want to do better this year so that I can prove I’m worth having my name.”

Lee Byung-gyu (33), LG’s front man who transferred to Chunichi in Japan, also has a 24-year-old namesake on his former team. Both of them happen to be left-handed hitters. Last year, when both of them were in the majors together, teammates distinguished them by calling the older one “Lee Byung-gyu,” and the younger one “little Lee Byung-gyu.” Last year’s stats show that “little” Lee Byung-gyu had one hit in eight at bats.

“Little” Lee Byung-gyu also had an injury late last year. He tore his cruciate ligament in his right knee and he is also in rehabilitation. He said, “I’m so eager to be on the field again. I have no other thought but that I have to do well.”

Can the “counterfeit” Lee Seung-yeop and “little” Lee Byung-gyu fill in the hollow spaces of Korean pro baseball that their namesakes left behind?