Former teammates attended the ceremonial first pitch for Korea’s No. 4 hitter, Lee Dae-ho (41).
Lee Dae-ho threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the 2023 Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) Chiba Lotte home game at the PayPay Dome in Fukuoka, Japan, on Monday (April 28). He was invited by his former team, SoftBank, to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Initially, Lee was scheduled to deliver a ceremonial first pitch instead of a regular one. The ceremonial first pitch is usually delivered by a ball boy, not a catcher.
However, former teammates stepped up to welcome Lee to SoftBank after an eight-year absence. Japan’s leading hitter Yuki Yanagita, 35, batted first, while outfielder Akira Nakamura, 34, donned a catcher’s mask and took the mound.
Lee played for SoftBank for two years in 2014 and 2015, leading the team to back-to-back integrated championships. In 2015, he became the first Korean to be named Most Valuable Player (MVP). In his two seasons with SoftBank, Lee appeared in 285 games, batting .292 (314-for-1076) with 50 home runs, 166 RBIs, and 128 runs scored.
Yanagita and Nakamura were among the youngest players in the organization at the time, when they both played for Lee and SoftBank. 스포츠토토 Now, as seniors, they’ve each gone on to become one of the top players in Japanese baseball. “When we played together, we were both the youngest in the team,” Lee laughed, “and when I saw how they’ve grown into superstars, I thought, ‘Wow, the years have passed.
Nakamura is an outfielder, but he volunteered to play catcher for Dae-ho. “I’ve never played catcher before, so I’ll be lucky if I can catch the ball,” he said, smiling, “I’m very happy just to receive the ball from a super player, and it will be a good memory.”
When Lee saw Nakamura, he said, “He’s the hardest working player in SoftBank. He’s bound to do well even as he gets older,” he said, giving Nakamura a thumbs-up, adding, “There are many players in Korea who learn from his batting form.” Nakamura has appeared in 42 games this season, batting .288 (46-for-161) with two home runs, 14 runs scored and 12 RBIs.
After seeing Lee for the first time in eight years, Nakamura said, “I was very happy. He looks just like he used to,” Nakamura said. “When we played together, I felt very strong,” he said, adding, “I felt fortunate to have him as a teammate.” He recalled their time together.
Yanagita greeted Lee’s visit with a 90-degree bow. “He was a player who helped me a lot when I was younger and growing up,” he said, expressing his gratitude.
The day before, Lee watched the game from the stands and enthusiastically cheered on his former teammates. Yanagita, who went 3-for-6 with a home run, an RBI, and two runs scored, including the game-winning hit in the bottom of the 12th inning, drew laughs when he said, “I got good energy from Dae-ho Lee,” and said “thank you” in Korean.
Last year, Lee ended his career with the second retirement tour in KBO history. At the time, Yanagita sent him a video letter to congratulate him on his retirement. “I was very happy when I was asked,” he said, “but I felt a little empty because a great player retired.”
Yanagita cited KBO League “hitting genius” Lee Jung-hoo (Kiwoom) as a role model. “I know about Lee Jung-hoo,” Yanagita said, “but you shouldn’t learn from me, you should learn from Lee Dae-ho,” he added.
In 42 games this season, Yanagita is batting .325 (49-for-151) with eight home runs, 23 RBIs and 21 runs scored. He is ranked first in batting average, second in home runs, third in RBIs, and fourth in runs scored. “My goal for this season is to have a batting average of 30% and more than 30 home runs,” he said.