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Retiring baseball legend rues 'heart being ripped out' over end of career

All Headlines 17:23 October 03, 2017

DAEGU, Oct. 3 (Yonhap) -- About to call it quits after a record-breaking career in South Korean baseball on Tuesday, Samsung Lions slugger Lee Seung-yuop said he felt like his "heart was getting ripped out."

Lee was scheduled to play his final Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) game later in the day against the Nexen Heroes at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul. Daegu is also Lee's hometown and he's spent his entire 15-year KBO career with the Lions, with an eight-season stint in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) from 2004 to 2011.

At a press conference before the first pitch, Lee said baseball has been "everything" to him and he hated the feeling he had Tuesday morning.

Samsung Lions' slugger Lee Seung-yuop speaks at a press conference before his final Korea Baseball Organization game at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu on Oct. 3, 2017. (Yonhap)

"I feel like my heart is getting ripped out," Lee said. "I was able to maintain my composure until yesterday, but this morning, I felt strange. I've gained so much from baseball, and I've tried my absolute best to become the best player I could be. I wouldn't be here without the game of baseball."

Lee, 41, retiring as the KBO's all-time leader in home runs with 465 before Tuesday's game. He's also top in runs scored, RBIs, doubles and total bases.

He still holds the single-season record for home runs with 56, set in 2003.

Lee said he'd been hoping to add to his gaudy offensive numbers in his final game, but once the last day arrived, he just wanted to give his best effort and see what happened.

"Since this wraps up my 23-year professional career, I'd like to play the best I can before the fans," Lee said.

Lee thanked his parents for taking care of his mind and body, and a slew of coaches and managers he's had over his illustrious career. Lee also had fans come from Japan to watch his final game, and thanked them for their support throughout his up-and-down NPB career.

Lee remained a productive designated hitter in his final season. He entered Tuesday's game batting .278 with 22 home runs and 84 RBIs. And last year, he had 27 homers and 118 RBIs -- his most since 144 in 2003 -- while batting .303.

Asked if he was leaving the game prematurely, Lee said he wanted to give the Lions a chance to rebuild, noting that the team has finished ninth among 10 teams in each of the past two seasons.

Samsung Lions' slugger Lee Seung-yuop takes a bow at the start of a press conference before his final Korea Baseball Organization game at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu on Oct. 3, 2017. (Yonhap)

"It was time for me to leave, and if I hadn't decided to retire on my own terms, I think it would have been hard for the club to bring it up first," Lee said. "Though we won the championship my first year back from Japan in 2012, we were ninth the last two years. I feel responsible as one of the veterans, and the team needs a change. And it can only happen if I retire now."

Lee also said he hoped the Lions' minor leaguers would develop fast and fill his void, adding, "I am hoping they will be able to turn the fortunes around for the Lions."

Lee kept mum on his post-retirement plans, though he did say he'll never leave baseball.

"I've been talking to many different people; I could go study the game at some place, or I could become a television analyst," Lee said. "One thing is for sure -- I'll spend the rest of my life as a baseball man. I'll find a way to make the Lions and Korean baseball better. Baseball is my life."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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