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Star Baseball Coach Takes Over LG`s Minor League Team

Posted November. 28, 2009 01:48,   


Hayato Sakamoto of the Japanese pro baseball champions Yomiuri Giants is a next-generation baseball star.

Just 21, he finished the season with a batting average of .306, 18 home runs and 62 RBIs. Accordingly, his annual salary was almost doubled this year from 46 million yen (500,000 U.S. dollars) to 80 million yen (900,000 million dollars) next year.

Sakamoto’s salary for 2010 is comparable to the salaries of Ichiro Suzuki (Seattle Mariners) and Hideki Matsui (New York Yankees) received in their fourth year in the Japanese leagues.

Sakamoto is the favored disciple of Kim Ki-tae, who recently quit as a Giants coach to take over the minor league team of the LG Twins of Korea. When Sakamoto joined Yomiuri in 2007, Kim was an LG coach and focused on developing Sakamoto.

Kim even went to the stadium on holidays whenever Sakamoto asked him to go. Sakamoto played in just four games in 2007, but under Kim’s guidance, he became a star in two years.

After deciding to leave the Giants and work for the Twins, Kim visited the Giants’ front office to say goodbye to Giants manager Tatsunori Hara and team representative Hidetoshi Kiyotake. Kim also took time to see Sakamoto, who visited the office to express his gratitude for Kim’s sincere efforts.

“I feel really happy. While working as a coach for the Giants, I learned how young players could change and grow,” Kim said.

The Dong-A Ilbo talked to Kim Wednesday at LG Champions Club in Guri, Gyeonggi Province. He said, “Though I was a foreigner, I tried to teach (the Giants) everything. At first, players felt unfamiliar with me but gradually opened their hearts. I know the Twins also have many promising players. I’ll do everything I can to nurture them.”

Kim also stressed good manners. “Baseball is not easy sport. I understand that all players cannot show a good performance due to lack of ability, but I won’t turn a blind eye to impoliteness. Rooting for other players, supporting others, cooperating and being polite to senior players are the ABCs of baseball. If players consider these aspects, team bonding will strengthen significantly,” he said.

Kim was also a standout in his playing days, but also well-known for his personality. Since he loved mingling with others and making jokes, he was popular among younger players.

Yet he was also known as a hothead who never turned a blind eye to injustice. So what kind of person is he as a manager?

“I’m not a flawless and thorough person. Sometimes I will be strict. But, I want to help players correct their mistakes instead of criticizing their faults,” he said.

His joining of the Twins raised many questions. First, the Giants had strongly asked Kim to stay. Rumors also had it that other Korean teams also wanted him. So why did he choose the Twins, who offered the managerial position on their minor league team when he had never played for them before?

“In the 1990s, the Twins performed beyond imagination,” he said. “At the time, I felt the team was great. I respect Twins manager Park Jong-hun a lot. So it was a great honor to be asked by Park to join the team. It would be great to cultivate promising players and help them become major league quality.”