By Yoo Jee-ho
TOKYO, March 13 (Yonhap) -- The 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC) was a disaster for South Korea but an eye-opening experience for its star outfielder, Lee Jung-hoo.
The country crashed out of the first round for the third consecutive time, with a 2-2 record over the past five days at Tokyo Dome. Lee was one of the few bright spots, batting 6-for-14 with two doubles and five RBIs.
"We had a lot of young players this year, including myself, and we all realized at this tournament that we have so much ground to make up against the rest of the world," Lee said at his postgame press conference. "But I think we have to keep working hard to improve, rather than hang our head in disappointment. We all have different areas that we have to improve. We should go back to our clubs, think about what happened in this tournament and make adjustments accordingly."
Lee is set to be posted by his Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) club, Kiwoom Heroes, after this season for interested major league teams. The reigning KBO MVP could become the next homegrown star to make the jump from South Korea to the big stage, and this WBC was to have been a key international showcase for Lee.
A trip to the quarterfinals and, better yet, to the championship round in Miami would have put Lee in a much brighter spotlight. And he would have had a chance to face more major league-caliber pitching in later rounds.
Instead, he ended up seeing one major leaguer pitcher, Yu Darvish of the San Diego Padres, in the 13-4 loss to Japan.
Lee went 1-for-2 with an RBI single against the veteran right-hander.
"I think I will remember the hit against Yu Darvish for a long time. And I will also remember the foul ball that I pulled to the right field against him," Lee said. "The biggest takeaway from this tournament for me was that I didn't whiff on pitches from Japanese pitchers. I worked so hard all winter to be able to handle fastballs and tough breaking balls, and I was ready to show that in games here."
Lee was born in Japan while his baseball legend of a father, Lee Jong-beom, was playing for the Chunichi Dragons in the Nippon Professional Baseball. But following in his father's footsteps isn't on Lee's mind right now.
"I think I should become a better player in Korea," he said. "I don't know what's going to happen after this season, but I still want to challenge myself in the majors."