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(2nd LD) Japan Series MVP Lee Dae-ho declares intent to play in MLB

All Headlines 11:22 November 03, 2015

(ATTN: ADDS details)
By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Nov. 3 (Yonhap) -- South Korean baseball slugger Lee Dae-ho on Tuesday declared his intent to play in Major League Baseball (MLB), saying it's always been his dream to become a big league player.

At a press conference in Seoul, the reigning Japan Series MVP for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks said he will exercise his option with the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) club and become a free agent.

"All baseball players dream of playing in the majors, and I'd like to pursue that dream," he said. "If I can give 100 percent, like I've done throughout my career, I don't think it will be impossible."

Last week, Lee became the first South Korean to win the MVP honors in the championship series of the NPB, lifting the Hawks to their second straight crown. Lee batted .500 (8-for-16) with two home runs and eight RBIs in the heart of the order, as the Hawks knocked off the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in five games.

Lee, 33, played for the Lotte Giants in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) from 2001 to 2011, and then joined the Orix Buffaloes in the NPB in 2012. He played there for two seasons before moving to the Hawks.

After hitting 225 home runs in 1,150 games in South Korea, Lee belted 98 home runs in 570 games in Japan.

South Korean agency Montis Sports Management Group said it has teamed up with the U.S.-based MVP Sports Group to represent Lee. MVP Sports Group represents former big league MVPs Alex Rodriguez, Joey Votto and Albert Pujols, among others.

Lee said he decided "two days ago" that he wanted to test himself against big league pitching.

"I'd been thinking about playing in the majors before going to Japan, but things didn't quite work out then," Lee said. "The season has been over for just a few days. Pursuing a big league dream had always been in the back of my mind, but throughout the season, I was only concentrating on trying to help the team win the championship."

Lee said he wanted to challenge himself one last time as he nears his mid-30s.

"I decided it was now or never, considering my age," he added. "I talked quite a bit with my family about my decision, and they said they'd support me 100 percent. And I am confident I can show what I am capable of (in the majors)."

Before pursuing his big league dream, Lee will have national team commitments for the upcoming Premier 12. Now that he's announced his intent, Lee said he won't worry about off-field issues for the time being.

"I will stay focused on playing baseball," he said. "I've got great agencies and they'll do all the hard work for me."

If Lee makes his big league debut next year, he'll become the first South Korean position player to have competed in the KBO, NPB and MLB. There have been four pitchers who've pulled off the trifecta, including Park Chan-ho, the first South Korean in the majors.

Lee was one of the KBO's most feared sluggers before departing for the NPB. He won the batting Triple Crown in 2006 and 2010, and was voted the MVP in the 2010 season when he established career-highs with a .364 batting average, 44 home runs and 133 RBIs.

Lee was the three-time batting champion and two-time home run king in South Korea.

In his first season with the Buffaloes, Lee batted .286/.368/.478 with 24 home runs and 91 RBIs. He matched the home run and RBI totals the following year, while raising his triple slash line to .303/.384/.493.

Last year, his powers numbers dipped to 19 homers and 68 RBIs for the Hawks, though he still hit .300.

This year, Lee set his NPB career-highs with 31 home runs and 98 RBIs in 141 games, and then enjoyed a productive postseason to win the Japan Series MVP.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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