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Hulk Foundation Chairman Lee Man-soo: “An Ambassador and Representative of Korea, Wherever, Whenever.”

People > Hulk Foundation Chairman Lee Man-soo: “An Ambassador and Representative of Korea, Wherever, Whenever.”
Hulk Foundation Chairman Lee Man-soo:
“An Ambassador and Representative of Korea, Wherever, Whenever.”

Lee Man-soo is the “Homerun King,” “Hulk,” “Man of Records,” and, above all, the Korea Baseball Organization’s (KBO) greatest ever player, an honor conferred upon him in 2011 in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Korean professional baseball. Lee was beloved for his play as a powerful hitter and expert catcher. A little over four years ago, he stepped away from professional baseball after managing the SK Wyverns to multiple titles.
  LLee famously once ran around in nothing but his underpants before a crowd of 30,000 spectators to promote the sport, and today, in rather different attire, he continues to run both in and outside Korea to spread the spirit of baseball. At home, he donates his talents and resources to people in need, and he has gone as far as Laos to promote Korea through the game he loves. He says that despite being much busier than he was as a baseball player or manager, he is much happier these days. As the postseason heats up, the KF interviewed Lee Man-soo, Chairman of the Hulk Foundation.

During the summer, you took part in the Asian Games, leading the national team of Laos. After returning home, you have toured around the country to volunteer and teach. What have you been doing lately?

That’s right, I volunteered my time last week and this week, and my schedule for tomorrow and all next week is full of more volunteer activities in Seoul, Incheon, and several places in Gyeonggi-do. I sometimes go out to the provincial areas for two or three days at a time. Some people think I do good things only in Laos, but I do them in Korea, too. When I was a player or a manager, I used to spend half the year away from home, and now I spend 60 to 70 percent of the year away. However, I am much happier and healthier than when I was professionally active in the sport. I think I will be busy through the end of the year as I’m preparing for the international friendship games in Laos in January.

Four or five years have passed since you began baseball diplomacy in Laos. How have your activities there gone so far? You’ve had some great achievements, but you must have had many difficulties, too.

It’s no exaggeration to say that these past years have been a time of transforming the impossible into the possible. When I first arrived in Laos, there was no Lao word for baseball. They didn’t have such a ball game, so it was only natural that they didn’t have a word for it. Whenever I threw a baseball, the children would try to kick it with their bare feet, with some even hurting themselves in the process. More than a few people thought I would give up teaching baseball after my first volunteering appearance. I myself had no idea I would be teaching baseball in Laos for this long.
  Now, I am very pleased and proud that Laos has a baseball association and a national team, as well as an increasing number of schools that are launching baseball teams. Baseball seems to have taken root in Laos to some extent, but I can’t just pack up and leave the country, as I would miss my young friends there too much. Since I left the KBO League as a manager, I haven’t had a regular income. For the first few years, I spent my savings, and I have only limited funds to draw upon, but the more I let go of the things I have and share them with others, the greater joy I feel. I still have difficulties, but more and more people are helping me at home and abroad.

In addition to your work in Laos, you organize various activities at schools in Korea. Could you tell us about that?

This year alone, I have toured more than 40 elementary, middle, and high schools and universities. I am just one man, but the requests for help come from so many places. I am very busy, as half of my week is occupied with teaching and volunteering.
  Many baseball teams at financially struggling schools don’t have the necessary equipment, so I donate pitching machines and other costly items to them. I also conduct one-point lessons. My life is more hectic than when I was a professional baseball team manager, and I spend much more than I earn, but I live warmly and happily. At the age of sixty, I think I have never felt more alive.

There are many fans who want to see you on television as a baseball commentator, but you seem to have a packed schedule as it is. What are your future goals in Korea and Laos?

I once received quite a good offer to work as a commentator, but I think that opportunity will still be open to me even at a more mature age. When I get older and my physical condition can’t keep up with all I want to do, I will have to cut down on my volunteer work. So, I decided to devote myself to sharing while I am still relatively young and healthy.
  In Korea, I will continue to visit schools that need me. In Laos, I would like to exert more effort toward developing baseball to become a means of promoting peace and exchange in Southeast Asia. My goal is to build a fully equipped baseball stadium and host an Indochina baseball championship for Laos and the neighboring countries on the Indochinese peninsula such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar.
  Do you happen to know the first person who brought baseball into Korea? It was Philip Gillett, an American missionary, who introduced baseball to the nation through the YMCA in 1904. Thanks to him, today the Korean people have one more great sport to enjoy, and baseball has enabled many people to make friends and communicate and share with each other. Had it not been for him, baseball may never have reached Korea, and Lee Man-soo may never have become a baseball player. Like the one American missionary who brought change to Korea more than a hundred years ago, I would be more than happy to be remembered as the man who sowed the seeds of baseball in Laos.

The KF and ASEAN Culture House hold a variety of exchanges with Laos and other countries in Southeast Asia, and we hope that today’s interview will open more wonderful doors for sharing our cultures. Would you like to close by saying something to our readers?

Two years ago, Laotian players had an opportunity to come to Korea at the invitation of the Busan Foundation for International Cooperation. Through their visit, the youths of Laos were able to encounter and experience advanced baseball, awakening within them even greater dreams and goals. They returned to Laos filled with nice memories of Korea and warm-hearted Koreans. I look forward to enjoying such occasions to share goodwill with the KF and the ASEAN Culture House. Baseball can function as a means of Korea-Laos exchange in fields as diverse as sports, culture, education, and the economy. I, Lee Man-soo, am working as a Korean ambassador, wherever, whenever. In the years to come, I will do everything in my power to contribute to our bilateral relations.

Interviewed by Kim Daniel

Pictures courtesy of Samsung Lions
Pictures courtesy of Hulk Foundation


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