BUSAN, South Korea – Every spring, Busanites start to feel the ground shake and their hearts begin to pound. Like a Korean version of St. Patrick, you can see the fearful exodus of every live chicken within 100 kilometers of Sajik Stadium and local hospitals are inundated with increased inquiries for beer and soju IV’s – ok, maybe I am embellishing a little. However, for the sports fans of Busan, these clues and events can only lead to one conclusion…Lotte Giant baseball is back.
The local baseball titans have begun their 2010 campaign in the hopes of bringing the city of Busan a Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) title for the first time since 1992. After a rocky start, the whole city still has high expectations for them to bring home the championship this year.
At the helm, the Giants will be in the capable hands of American manager, Jerry Royster. Royster joined the team in 2008 and quickly turned Lotte from perennial doormats to playoff contenders. The Giants finished third in 2008 with a 69-57 record, and in 2009, they finished fourth with a 66-67 record – despite having an atrocious first month.
Lotte is led once again this year by their power duo of Dae Ho Lee and Karim Garcia, both of whom ranked amongst the top home run hitters in the KBO in 2009.
While Lee is a more John Kruk than Albert Pujols in appearance, don’t let his pillow like physique fool you. He is a great talent who feasts on opposition pitching from the third or fourth spot in the batting order. Last year he had 28 long balls, 100 RBIs and a .293 batting average.
Lee was a pitcher prior to an injury in 2001 and won the Triple Crown in 2006, leading the KBO in batting average, home runs and RBIs. He also played for Team Korea in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when the Korean squad won the gold.
Lee Dae-ho (left) and Hong Sung-heon are two more stars that return this year for Lotte
Garcia is another power player who gladly cleans up any of Lee’s leftovers.
Garcia, originally from Mexico, was a journeyman in Major League Baseball (MLB) before finding a home in Busan. Stateside, he is best known for an altercation he had while a New York Yankee, with Boston Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez during the 2003 American League Championship Series. The Busan version of Garcia is a fan friendly power hitter who possesses a cannon of an arm in right field. Last season he hit 29 home runs, 111 RBIs and had a .283 average. He also led the league in outfield assists with 17.
The one noticeable change this year for the Giants will be in their bullpen. Closer Jon Atkins, who led the league in saves in 2009 is gone, now replaced by starting pitcher Ryan Sadowski. Sadowski played sparingly for the San Francisco Giants in 2009, amassing a 2-4 record.
Other key players to watch this season are starting pitcher Seung Jun Song, shortstop Ki-Hyuk Park and first baseman/designated hitter Sung Heun Hong. Hong was runner-up in the batting average battle in 2009, finishing with a .371 average. Also keep an eye on pitcher Son Min-han, who ranks as the second highest paid player in the KBO with a hefty $510,000 salary.
For more information on the Giants, look for weekly recaps, schedules and standings on the Busan Haps' Lotte Giants Page