Kiwoom Heroes slugger Lee Jung-hoo, 25, said goodbye to his home fans in what was effectively his last at-bat before heading overseas. His teammates shared a moment with him, taking pictures with each other.
Lee came to bat as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth inning against the Samsung Lions in the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Tuesday, leading 5-3.
It had been 80 days since Lee had a first-team at-bat since July 22 against the Lotte Giants. In that game, Lee suffered an ankle injury that landed him on the operating table. He was effectively out for the season as he needed about three months to recover. This also ruled him out of the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games.
After the surgery, Lee made a quick recovery and was reinstated to the first team on March 3.
After working hard to get back into the lineup for the final home game, he was able to play one at-bat, even though he was still not fully fit. This would be Lee’s last at-bat in Korea.
After this season, Lee will be looking to play overseas. Before the start of the season, he expressed his desire to go abroad to his club, and Kiwoom accepted.
However, his trip to the final game was almost canceled. He allowed a 3-3 tie in the top of the eighth inning. However, in the bottom of the eighth, with the score tied at 3-3, Lim Ji-yeol hit a two-run home run with one out to take the lead, and Kiwoom coach Hong Won-ki substituted Lee Jung-hoo. Lee stepped up to the plate amidst enthusiastic cheers from the home fans. Before stepping up to the plate, Lee bowed to the fans.
Facing his former teammate Kim Tae-hoon, Lee worked a full count. After fouling off a whopping six pitches, Lee battled back to retire the next 12 pitches on a grounder to third base. As he finished his last at-bat in Korea, the San Francisco manager, who was visiting the Gocheok Dome for the first time, was seen clapping.
After Kiwoom’s offense ended in the eighth inning, Lee Jung-hoo played defense in center field in the ninth. As he walked toward the outfield, he could be seen catching a glimpse of Gochuk-dome. Although the ball didn’t make it to the outfield, Lee was able to share in the victory and the joy of the team’s comeback. 무지개토토
There are still two games left in the season, but it’s unclear if Lee will play the rest of the way. Let’s just say it’s unlikely.
Since it was the final home game of the season, he took a photo on the Gochuk mound with Lim Ji-yeol, Kim Hye-sung, and Song Sung-moon.
The hero of the game, Im Ji-yeol, wished his brother well, saying, “(Lee) Jung-hoo came back after three months and I’m so happy that he’s healthy, and I’m grateful and happy that I can play on the field with the best player until the end, even though I won’t be in Korea next year.”
Her friend and captain Kim Hye-sung also said, “I didn’t think the past time would be precious, but now I realize that every moment we had together was precious. She was a very supportive and good friend,” and cheered him on, saying, “She’s a very good player, so I hope she can adapt quickly and show good things when she goes to (the U.S.).”
Lee Jung-hoo also delivered a farewell speech. He said, “I was very nervous from yesterday until the game, but when I got to the plate, I relaxed. I didn’t have a sense of practice yet, but as I looked at the ball one by one, I saw the ball hit and fouled it off. Still, I want to give meaning to the fact that I was able to show my last appearance on the field (at home),” he reflected.
“I tried to prepare as best I could, whether it worked or not. I came (to the first team) without completing my rehabilitation because I was traveling for my last appearance, but I wanted to be in the best shape possible, and it worked out. I was able to get my last at-bat thanks to the consideration of my coach. I’m very grateful,” he said.
“It was emotional (saying goodbye to the fans). I realized that seven years went by quickly. I’m sure I’ll have a longer baseball career than seven years, but I’ll never forget these first seven years in my heart,” he said in farewell.