At the 2016 World Baseball Classic, South Korea was down 0-5 to the Netherlands in the bottom of the second inning, but the bats held strong and reliever Kim Ra-kyung rallied for a thrilling 9-8 victory.
Lee, 33, who started at designated hitter and hit an RBI single in the top of the sixth inning to tie the game at 8-8, is an eight-year veteran of the national team who has been consistently selected since her first call-up in 2016.
Lee, who is competing in the Women’s Baseball Asian Cup in Hong Kong, will have played in five international tournaments. That’s more than any other player on the 20-member national team.
Despite having the most international experience, she still gets nervous before the tournament. “You can’t be that nervous when you walk into the stadium and the national anthem starts. It’s always been and still is nerve-wracking to hear the national anthem while wearing the flag,” she smiled.
Despite being an eight-year veteran of the national team, the meaning of the flag is different every time. “My mindset changes every year. In the beginning, I just wanted to make the national team, but after the fourth year, I realized that I wanted to show my growth.”
Catcher Lee sets goals every year. Last year, she focused on hitting, and this year, she’s working on her defense. In her 30s, she’s been working on building her physical strength to keep up with her younger peers. She’s improved every year, and for eight years, one of the two or three spots on the varsity team has always been hers.
“She has really strong shoulders,” says national team coach Heo Il-sang. Her catching and blocking are both good.” During national team training, Lee often uses her strong shoulders to catch runners running from first to second base. It’s not a common sight in women’s baseball. During this year’s national team trials, Lee’s stolen base caught the attention of national team coach Yang Sang-moon, who was watching.
Five of the eight pitchers on the women’s national team this year are in their late teens. The average age of the pitching staff is just 19.7 years old. That’s where 33-year-old veteran catcher Lee Bait-na comes in.
“The young pitchers on the national team have really good pitches. They have the most power in the national team, and they feel like the ball is coming all the way through, but they’re nervous and shaky. So when I’m in the battery with them, I try to sit close to home plate so that they feel comfortable throwing,” Lee says of her pitcher’s lead.
Lee’s strategy is to be aggressive with her pitches. “Rather than throwing high balls that are completely out of the strike zone, I try to keep them in the zone. Then I’ll throw in a changeup that goes down in the zone.”
It’s also the catcher’s job to get on the mound and stabilize the pitcher when he’s shaky. “I tell them, ‘What are you having for dinner tonight? Throw like you’re thinking about dinner,'” Lee says. “That’s what I mean by that. That’s what I mean by that,” she explains.
‘Hard work and passion shine through!
These are the words on Lee’s shin guards. A friend gave it to her as a cheerleader, using her name. In reality, Lee is a hard-working athlete with only one passion: baseball. She doesn’t have time to go to lessons for a living. She still finds time to swing a bat in the parking lot.
Lee started playing baseball in 2010, when women’s baseball in Korea was just taking off. In 2007, the Women’s Baseball Association of Korea (WBAK) was founded, and in 2008, the country fielded its first women’s national team. At a time when women playing baseball was not well known, there were only a few teams in the country, but at the age of 20, Lee started playing baseball as if by fate and became a part of the baseball and fate community. She wanted to get better at the game, so she changed jobs to focus on baseball.안전놀이터
She also has a strong love for catcher. Catcher is not a popular position for both men and women, especially in women’s baseball, because the equipment is usually heavy and you have to sit down. But Lee says, “I’m the only one on the field who can see all of our players, and I find it fascinating because I can see the entire field. I’ve never regretted playing catcher.”
Perhaps this year will be the veteran catcher’s “last dance” with a generation of women’s baseball players. “You have to pass the torch,” she says, “and now the national team is going through a generational change and the younger players have to prepare for the next international tournament. I’m actually hurting right now, and I’m just trying to make sure that this is my last year, and that’s the mentality of the 30-year-olds in the national team, including myself.”
Since it may be her last, Lee is aiming for the best Asian Cup finish ever for the women’s national team. The previous best result was third place at the 2017 BFA Cup. “I really want to come home with a silver medal. The bracket is ridiculously lopsided, but I want to win it all and make it to the final.” Now, it’s time to fight for the perfect last dance.