Record-breaking season expected
Take me out to the ball game
By Kang seung-woo
With baseball set to start all across the nation on Saturday, fans are already in anticipation of the plenty of record-setting stuff about to take place through the regular season.
The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) hit a record in spectatorship in the 2011 season and is likely to pick up where it left off last year. Hopes are for attendance surpassing 7 million, while baseball fans expect to see a slew of records produced on the grounds.
Last season, buoyed by an unprecedented wave of popularity, eight baseball teams attracted a total of 6.81 million to ballparks, marking an all-time single season record and they have set the bar higher to 7.10 million.
A glimpse of reaching the milestone was already shown during the preseason, as the baseball governing body saw a record 358,561 in attendance at 48 exhibition games, up 46 percent from a year ago.
At the plate, Samsung Lions’ Lee Seung-yeop and SK Wyverns’ Park Kyung-oan will vie for the title of the all-time home run record, set by retired Yang Joon-hyuk, who also holds eight other titles including career hits and RBIs.
The 35-year-old Lee, who has returned to the Lions after an eight-year spell in Japan, is 27 homers short of Yang’s 324.
Despite being considered past his prime during which the left-handed slugger set the Asian home run record of 56 in 2003, Lee proved in the preseason games that he still has something left in his tank, registering two home runs and seven RBIs in 11 appearances with a batting average of .429.
In addition, if Lee, who hit 159 long balls in the Japanese league, produces more than 20 in the upcoming season, he will go down in KBO lore as the first player to reach the number in homers for the eighth straight year.
The Wyverns veteran catcher Park, sitting on 313 career homers, will also mount a challenge to a record of the most career games played.
Yang, a former Lion, played a record 2,135 games during his 18-year career and Park, a 21-year pro, needs to play 109 games this season to eclipse Yang.
Nexen Heroes veteran Song Ji-man, who has hit 309 homers, is also within striking distance in the career home run race.
Hanwha Eagles’ Jang Sung-ho, who has produced triple-digit hits for 10 years in a row, will become the third to hit 2,000 hits in the 31-year history of the league.
On the mound, Lions’ closer Oh Seung-hwan and Ryu hyun-jin, an Eagles lefty, are on the verge of hitting new highs.
Oh is ranked third in the most career saves with 212, 15 short of all-time career leader Kim Yong-soo.
Given that the 29-year-old notched 47 saves last season and the Daegu-based Lions are favored to win the title for the second straight year, the right-hander is easily expected to dethrone Kim this season.
Ryu, 25, is also under the spotlight as he will throw to work his way into becoming the third hurler to record double-figure victories for seven consecutive seasons and 11 wins from this season will make him the youngest pitcher with 100 wins.
LG Twins reliever Ryu Taek-hyun, who has appeared in 811 games thus far, will stand atop the rankings for the most games pitched with two outings.