Korea's Royals superfan gets boisterous welcome
#SungWooToKC trek adds throwing out first pitch at Kauffman Stadium to itinerary
KANSAS CITY -- As the Royals took batting practice Monday, a strip of fans lined the first row behind the home dugout at Kauffman Stadium, craning their necks to catch a peak at the action.
But it was not Billy Butler or Salvador Perez depositing balls into the Fountains that captivated them.
It was SungWoo Lee, South Korea's Royals superfan.
Lee is in the final stages of his 10-day intercontinental voyage from Seoul to Kansas City to see his beloved Royals in person for the first time. Kansas City invited Lee, a fan of the team for nearly 20 years, to toss out the first pitch before Monday's Athletics-Royals series opener.
Clad in his customized "SungWoo Lee" Royals jersey, Lee bounced around the field from Royal to Royal, media member to media member, a wicked grin etched onto his face.
The entire Kansas City outfield approached him before the game. So did Royals manager Ned Yost. Lee was at a loss for words when meeting Alex Gordon, and even more perplexed in reverie when he reached out and gripped Gordon's dirt-stained batting glove.
"I can't believe I'm here with all of the players… it's surreal," said Lee, who returns to South Korea on Thursday.
His excitement was evident as he sauntered out to the mound to throw out the first pitch: Lee airmailed it to the backstop, but not before flaunting some theatrics to the adoration of the Kauffman Stadium crowd.
Lee's Royals fandom originated in 1995 when he flipped on an American sports highlight show, saw Kansas City play and, as, he describes it: "The beautiful K caught my eye." From there, Lee became infatuated with Royals lore, as he delved into the history of the team. There have been some tough years, but Lee's support has been unwavering.
"The dude is just die hard, and he never has a bad word to say about us, even when we were at our lowest of our low and I was just really happy and honored to meet him," said Royals starter Danny Duffy, who greeted Lee with warm hug before the Royals eighth-straight win.
From the moment he touched down in Kansas City last Tuesday, he's been greeted with open arms.
A welcoming committee has ferried Lee around the city and accompanied him on a number of activities, including private tours of Kauffman Stadium, Arrowhead Stadium, and even the home of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Kansas City's Double-A affiliate, where his private tour extended to the clubhouse.
On Sunday, Lee met Frank White, a former Royal who recently won the Democratic primary in the Jackson County Legislature. Lee received a Frank White jersey.
"From the first day in Kansas City, all the attention from media and all the people welcoming and greeting me in Kansas City, it's way over my expectations," Lee said.
A ferocious social media campaign has allowed for the legend of SunWoo Lee grow.
Lee -- who, in South Korea, would rise at 9 a.m. for night games or 3 a.m. for day games, meticulously checking MLB.com's Gameday -- inspired the Twitter hashtag #SungWooToKC upon news of his trip abroad.
His Royals Nation celebrity status could be seen on Saturday during his first game at Kauffman Stadium, when the crowd let out a boisterous roar at Lee's first appearance on the stadium video board in the fifth inning of a 0-0 game. The Royals are 6-0 since he set foot in America, and so, of course, one batter after Lee's mug graced the Royals' big screen, Gordon cracked the game-winning solo home run.
"It's been a really overwhelming experience, every day is a new day," Lee said.
Calling this an unforgettable experience for Lee would be a massive understatement. For the first time, he set foot in, as he describes it, "the beautiful K"; met a group of the players who are the impetus of his unusual love affair with the Royals; was given a commemorative coin by Hall of Famer George Brett; built relationships with people completely foreign to him a week ago; and gained a cult following along the way.
But what about his favorite moment of trip?
"That's an easy question," Lee confidently states. "The Royals keep winning."
He once again took the stage following Monday's 3-2 win over the A's, dancing on the video board while holding the big W in center field.