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SK's Lee Jae-won feels no pressure in pursuit of history

All Headlines 15:01 June 05, 2014

SEOUL, June 5 (Yonhap) -- Lee Jae-won, a previously unheralded catcher for the SK Wyverns in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), is chasing history this year, and yet the 26-year-old said Thursday he's undaunted by the magnitude of his pursuit.

Over his 48 games, and the Wyverns' 51 games, through Wednesday, Lee is batting .429. KBO teams will each play 128 games this year.

He is the seventh player in the KBO's 32-year history to maintain a batting average of above .400 past the 50-game mark for his club.

<YNAPHOTO path='C:/YNA/YNACLI~1/Down/Article/AEN20140605005100315_02_i.jpg' id='' title='' caption='Lee Jae-won of the SK Wyverns is batting .429 through the team&apos;s 51 games in 2014. He could become just the second player in Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) history to finish a season with a batting average of above .400. (Yonhap)'/>

Only one player has finished a season above .400 in the South Korean league. Baek In-chun, the player-manager for the MBC Blue Dragons (currently the LG Twins) in the inaugural KBO season in 1982, batted .412. Teams only played 80 games at the time, and Baek appeared in 72 of them.

Over a longer season, former Haitai Tigers' shortstop Lee Jong-beom came the closest to hitting .400. In 1994, he stayed above the mark through 104 games but ended the season with a .393 average. Lee played in 124 of the team's 126 games.

Several other players have had their crack at the elusive number, including three former batting champions -- Jang Hyo-jo (1987), Lee Jeong-hoon (1992) and Kim Tae-kyun (2012) -- only to come up short. Lee Jae-won is by far the unlikeliest name in the group.

Lee is playing in his eighth KBO season, but he's never played more than 82 games in any of his previous years. He did bat .316 in 82 games in 2008 but only .252 in 69 games last year.

Lee said he is just trying to enjoy the ride while it lasts.

"This is my first season as a full-time player," he said. "I've never even hit in the mid-.300 range in a full season. There's no way I can finish the season with a .400 average."

Opposing pitchers may beg to differ. Lee batted .463 in March and April, and followed that up with a .404 average in May. He has gone 3-for-7 in two games this month.

"I am really not feeling any pressure at the plate, and I plan to keep it that way," he said. "I hope fans can just sit back and watch me play."

Lee plays perhaps the most demanding position on the field, behind the plate, and he said the dog days of summer in July and August could determine the fate of his pursuit.

"It's been pretty tiring recently with the temperature on the rise," Lee acknowledged. "I don't know how I can get through July and August when it will get even hotter."

Lee insisted, however, that being the backstop won't have much negative bearing on his batting average.

"Obviously, playing catcher can take its toll," he said. "But if I am the designated hitter, I will be fretting about hitting while sitting in the dugout. As a catcher, I am not distracted by other thoughts and that helps me with my focus at the plate. It helps me to read pitchers, too."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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