From Korea to Kansas City: Royals superfan gets first-place welcome
The Royals welcome Korean superfan with open arms
Billy Butler stopped SungWoo Lee in the tunnel at Kauffman Stadium on Monday.
"We havin' lunch tomorrow?" Butler said, as he stretched out his hand to greet the Royals superfan.
SungWoo had not been informed of his lunch plans for the following day, and after receiving confirmation that he was, in fact, heading to lunch with Billy Butler, he responded in grand fashion.
"We're having lunch, not breakfast?"
Lorenzo Cain followed. And Jeremy Guthrie. And Danny Duffy.
And then Lee threw out the first pitch. And then he hung out in the broadcast booth. And then the Royals put up their eighth straight win. And now they're in first place. Yeah, it's been that kind of week for SungWoo Lee.
By now you probably know his story (if not, I'm happy to help move that rock you live under). Lee is a Royals superfan from South Korea who used baseball as a means to learn English in the 90's, and who fell in love with (and has stuck with) the "underdog" Royals as a result. While most of us Royals fans were born into our sports misery, SungWoo actively chose the Royals, and Kansas City wasn't about to let his loyalty go unnoticed. To this Royals fan, that is where the real story is. Before SportsCenter, and NBC Sports, and Deadspin; before morning radio shows and news crews everywhere; SungWoo's welcoming committee, led by Chris Kamler, was already set to give South Korea's biggest Royals fan a trip he would never forget.
"I knew he was a special guy," said Kamler, who's known SungWoo via social media for a few years. "I knew if we got him here, it would be a really special trip."
A special guy, indeed. Just ask Ethan Bryan. While in Korea, SungWoo connected with Bryan over his book about playing catch, and the two were eager to meet each other upon his arrival to KC. With Bryan's birthday coming up, SungWoo had an idea.
"What is the best birthday gift I could give you?" Lee asked.
"I am just happy you're here!" Bryan said.
SungWoo followed by asking him to be his catcher for Monday night's first pitch. Knowing that the now-cult hero could have his pick of Royals players to catch for him, it was a gesture that blew Ethan away.
"I know there's no crying in baseball and I am really glad I had sunglasses on," Bryan said.
But that's just the kind of guy SungWoo is, and he knows that this incredible week would not be possible without his friends ... and without the people of Kansas City.
"Without their help and support this couldn't happen. So far, it has been beyond my expectations," Lee said. "I would never imagine my trip to be like this."
Even Kamler has been amazed by the support of his home city.
"We must have been stopped over 200 times at the Chiefs game on Thursday with folks saying, 'Hey, welcome to KC, thanks for coming to our city.' Every time I heard that I became overwhelmed. This is a damn fine town, and I'm really proud of it this week."
And that, is just another reason why baseball can be great. From South Korea to Kansas City, it has brought together friends that had only interacted in the digital world, and has brought to the forefront a city and its people who know how to make a friend feel at home.
What are you talking about? He IS home. RT @FitzpatrickBK: As a Tigers fan, I have to ask: when is Sung Woo going home?— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) August 10, 2014
The Royals recent hot streak and the media attention have only brought to life a great story that was there the whole time. This Kansas City native has never been prouder of his hometown and his favorite team. Here's hoping the fun doesn't stop anytime soon.
From left to right (back row), Adam Scott, Ethan Bryan, Doug Bryan (Front row) KayCee, Sung Woo Lee, Curt Nelson, Chris Kamler. Photo Credit: Platte County Landmark