Whenever Kiwoom Heroes outfielder Lee Jung-hoo sees Kia Tigers rookie sensation Kim Do-yeong play, he sees a bit of his father, the retired South Korean baseball legend Lee Jong-beom.
Perhaps comparisons aren't fair, but it is not difficult to notice similarities between Kim, an 18-year-old phenom with an enviable skill set, and Lee Jong-beom, the ultimate five-tool star in his heyday in the 1990s.
Kim is an athletic shortstop with power and speed just like Lee, who could flirt with the elusive .400 batting average, hit 30-plus home runs and steal 80 bases at his peak. Lee, the 1994 league MVP and 1997 Korean Series MVP, was the most famous Tiger in his playing days. Kim, a Gwangju native like Lee, is already being hailed as the second coming of Lee Jong-beom.
Lee Jong-beom, currently the LG Twins' minor league manager, was nicknamed the "Son of the Wind," which made Lee Jung-hoo the "Grandson of the Wind." Tigers fans have begun calling Kim the "Stepson of the Wind."
As the actual son of the icon, Lee Jung-hoo is grateful for the way Kim's early success brought his father's incredible career back into the spotlight.
Kim, drafted with the territorial pick by the Tigers out of high school last year, led the preseason with a .432 batting average. He also homered twice and stole three bags in 12 games.
"For a rookie out of high school, Do-yeong has shown so much poise," Lee said of Kim during the annual KBO media day Thursday, two days before the start of the 2022 regular season. "Given how fast he is and how aggressive he is, he reminds me a lot of my father. There are many fans who've never seen my father play or who don't know anything about him, and I think Do-yeong has given them a chance to learn more about what my father did. As his son, I am really thankful, and I hope Do-yeong continues to play well."
The junior Lee said the "Next Lee Jong-beom" tag puts too much pressure on Kim but quipped, "Do-yeong is far better looking than my father."
"My father came out of college, and Do-yeong began his pro career early as a high school grad. I think Do-yeong will be better than my father by age 25 or 30," Lee Jung-hoo said. "Do-yeong even has the same intensity in his eyes that I saw from my father. He resembles my father much more than I do."
Lee Jung-hoo himself is not too shabby. He is the reigning Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) batting champion and is a lifetime .341 hitter. The Lees are the first father-son duo to have each won a batting title in league history. Since his debut in 2017, Lee ranks second in the KBO with 883 hits.
But the junior Lee is a vastly different type of player than his father. The son is probably the better contact hitter, but he doesn't have quite the same speed or power. The son is an outfielder who bats left and throws right, while the father, a righty, was a shortstop who only moved to a corner outfield position in the twilight of his career.
"I've never once thought my style of play resembles my father's in any way," Jung-hoo said. "I obviously respect him as my father and a baseball player, but I am just going to go my way."
Just as Kim did this year, Lee burst onto the scene in the preseason as a rookie in 2017. He batted .455 with three doubles and a triple in 12 games, and hit the ground running in the regular season en route to capturing the Rookie of the Year award -- all the while trying to move out of his father's shadow.
Speaking from experience of having played under a ton of pressure as a rookie, Lee advised Kim not to get caught up in media hype and instead take a long view of his career.
"As the season progresses, Do-yeong will start drawing even more attention than now, and that will only add pressure on him," Lee said. "He will have some great days and some not so great days. But I hope he doesn't dwell on those bad moments. He is just starting out now, and he will still have to figure out how to survive each and every day at this level.
"He will certainly run into a wall at some point, but I'd like to tell him he shouldn't get too down on himself," Lee continued. "It's best to just go and play baseball, not think about anything else."
During the group interview portion of the media day, Kim said it was "an honor" to be spoken in the same breath as Lee Jong-beom. He added he didn't feel he had earned that nickname as the second coming of the legend.
"I have to play well and put up good numbers like Jung-hoo," Kim said. "I think I was fortunate to have hit as well as I did in the preseason. I think the regular season will be a completely different animal and so I have to be prepared for that." (Yonhap)