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Late-blooming slugger says home run record far out of reach

All Headlines 18:58 June 04, 2015

SEOUL, June 4 (Yonhap) -- After becoming the first South Korean to hit 400 career home runs Wednesday, Lee Seung-yuop of the Samsung Lions said the Nexen Heroes' Park Byung-ho was the strongest candidate to next reach the milestone.

Park, who has led the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) in home runs in each of the past three seasons, said Lee has set the bar too high.

"I grew up watching Lee Seung-yuop play and he is still my idol," Park told reporters before the Heroes took on the Hanwha Eagles at Mokdong Stadium in Seoul on Thursday. "It's an honor just to be mentioned in the same breath with him but I can never be compared to him."

Park, 28, is a late-bloomer. He debuted with the LG Twins in 2005 but played sparingly before losing two years to military service. He returned in 2009 but didn't start playing regularly until late 2011 following a trade to Nexen. Before Thursday's game, Park had 172 homers, with only 24 homers in his first four seasons.

"Hitting 400 home runs is a remarkable accomplishment," Park added. "There has to be someone who starts hitting 30 homers a season at age 20 or 21. It's already late for me."

From 2012 to 2014, Park hit 31, 37 and 52 home runs. Lee Seung-yuop said Wednesday he felt Park had the talent and power to average close to 40 homers a year over the next five years. It will bring Park close to 400 before he gets to his mid-30s.

Lee, 38, also said Park is only just hitting his stride and may end up becoming an even better player than himself when Park reaches his late-30s.

Aside from the test of time, Park has one other thing working against his chase of history. Park is eligible to be posted for interested Major League Baseball clubs after this season and he has already spoken about his desire to play in the majors.

Park reiterated that he isn't even in the same league with Lee.

"It was a great honor that he picked me as his heir apparent," Park said of the slugger who also owns the KBO's single-season homer record with 56. "He's the greatest home run hitter, recognized as so by every baseball fan. I am just not on his level."

Park has a fair chance of breaking one of Lee's records. Lee led the KBO in homers in three consecutive seasons starting in 2001, and Park is trying to become the first to top the league in long balls over four straight seasons.

He has 15 so far in 2015 and trails Eric Thames of the NC Dinos by four -- not that the record interests Park.

"I know it's a boring answer, but I don't play to lead the league in home runs," Park said. "I play to help the team win."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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