Dae-Ho Lee is plenty familiar with opening days, but the 33-year-old slugger from Korea will be in for a new experience Monday.
After 15 years playing professionally in Korea and Japan, Lee is on his first MLB roster, making the Mariners out of spring training as the right-handed hitting half of a platoon at first base for Seattle. It’s been a lifelong dream for Lee to make the Major Leagues, but it was a long journey – one that culminated in a grueling month of spring training.
“It was hard,” Lee said through an interpreter Sunday about his spring training experience. “I had to show everything in one month, and I had to wake up earlier than other players to do extra work.”
That was because there were a lot of questions regarding if Lee could cut it in the majors. At 6 foot 4 and 250 pounds, could he move quick enough in the field and on the basepaths? Was he a good enough defender to put out at first base? Was he simply a one-trick pony that was only good for the occasional long ball?
Lee did enough to beat out Stefen Romero and Jesus Montero for the platoon spot, though, earning a fan in Seattle manager Scott Servais along the way.
“I think the one thing about Dae-Ho is if you look throughout the spring, just when you’d think things were gonna fall apart, he did something to keep you interested,” said Servais. “All of the sudden he’d look not so good on a first couple strikes, and then somebody will hang a breaking ball and he knocks the crap out of it. I think his ability to make adjustments, I said early on, I thought was pretty good throughout the course of an at-bat.”
It wasn’t just his approach at the plate that impressed Servais, either.
“For me, he handled first base and was defensively much better than I anticipated him being,” Servais said. “And even his instincts – he’s obviously not quick of foot on the bases, but his instincts on the bases are very good. That goes to all of the baseball he has played.”
Servais doesn’t exactly expect Lee to take the American League by storm, though. He knows that, even though Lee is a veteran in Asia, he’s anything but in America.
“There will need to be adjustments as the season goes on for him to survive and be a part of what we’re doing here,” Servais said. “Obviously the bat will tell the story here, if he’s going to be able to handle the left-handed pitching in particular in this league, which is pretty good, especially in our division. So we will see. He’s gonna get plenty of opportunity.”
None of that is news to Lee. He knows he’s about to face a caliber of pitching he’s never faced before.
“I see a lot of good pitchers in the big leagues, more variety of pitchers (than in Asia),” Lee said. “I was a veteran before but I’m a rookie now, so I feel a little bit more pressure.”
Despite his 15 years of experience, getting ready for his first Opening Day has Lee feeling like a rookie all over again.
“I feel very excited that tomorrow is Opening Day. I prepared all (spring) to get ready for this game,” Lee said. “I’ve been playing for a long time, (but) I feel like when I was promoted to the Korean major league.”