KIA’s 29-year-old chronically ill star beats himself

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“‘My health is down. I’m having a hard time physically,’ and I didn’t even know what that was.”

Lee Woo-sung, 29, the KIA Tigers’ “wait-and-see star,” was drafted by the Doosan Bears in the second round, 15th overall, in 2013. A backup whose most games played in a season was 80 in a decade, Lee hit .301 with 107 hits in 355 at-bats, eight home runs, 58 RBIs, 39 runs scored and a .780 OPS in 126 games this season.

It was Lee’s first three-peat and best season of his career. Lee returned home via Incheon International Airport on Aug. 28 after the final training camp in Okinawa. “They said, ‘Your stamina is down, you’re physically tired,’ but I didn’t even know what that was, because I had never played like that,” he said.

Lee defied expectations and played full-time in KIA’s thick outfield. At the beginning of the season, he thought he had won the competition with the backup outfielders to fill the void of Na Sung-bum, but that was not the case. Even after all the starters returned, his playing time didn’t decrease much. He became a key part of the batting lineup again when the starters went down with strains late in the season.

The end of the first half and the beginning of the second half were tough. The three-point defense broke down, but he managed to hold on and complete the first three-point defense of his career. “I asked Hyung-woo about it. I think it was in an article, but he said it’s a process, and that I have to overcome it myself. I felt comfortable. I rested when I needed to rest,” he said.

“I rested when I needed to rest,” he said, “and I trained intensely and ran because it was hard. I felt a lot of things after playing a season like that, and I became a better outfielder. Next year, I’ll try to play first base. It’s hard to imagine KIA without Lee Woo-sung now.

Lee even participated in the final training session. “I love working with the coach. There are also coaches who look at me when I’m good. In November, I still needed to establish my batting. Honestly, I didn’t even get three at-bats in regulation, but I was grateful to work out with the first team in a KIA uniform,” he said.

A year later, his mindset has changed. “I used to be very anxious. Now I think positively, and that’s different,” he said. Before, he was stressed and had negative thoughts when he didn’t get good grades. In 2023, Lee had a metamorphosis.

Lee said, “Next year, I have to do better than this year. Whether it’s batting average, home runs, or RBIs, the goal is to upgrade from this year. And I hope the team will go higher next year. I hope no one gets injured and the team sticks together.”

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