August 11, 2017
The Bonghwang High School Baseball Tournament will launch its 45th edition Saturday. Co-hosted by the Hankook Ilbo, the sister paper of The Korea Times, and the Korea Baseball Association (KBA), the tournament will pit 74 high schools from throughout the country against each other.
For the 17-day long baseball tourney, managers of each school gathered in Seoul last month for the preliminary draw, resulting in the opening match being between the defending champions Whimoon High School and Dongsan High School at 6 p.m. Whimoon has won the Bonghwang title twice -- in 2014 and 2016 -- while Dongsan, led by former Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) League catcher Keum Kwang-ok, claimed the crown in 1989.
Finding future baseball stars
Ever since its inaugural edition in 1971, the Bonghwang tournament has been a gate for future baseball stars. Choo Shin-soo of the Texas Rangers and Oh Seung-hwan of the St. Louis Cardinals made their Bonghwang appearances in 2000. Choo, who was a pitcher at that time, especially surprised local baseball fans for throwing 93 mph fastballs.
Park Byung-ho, playing for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings in the Minnesota Twins’ system, also shone at the Bonghwang event as he became the first high school player to hit four consecutive homeruns in 2004. Lee Jeong-hoo is the latest star featured at the tournament.
The Nexen Heroes rookie outfielder led his alma mater Whimoon to its two title wins.
“I have the best memories from the Bonghwang tournament,” Lee told the Hankook Ilbo, Tuesday. “I was really happy to claim the title as the tournament was my last major event as a high school student.”
Lee, the son of former Kia Tigers’ player Lee Jong-beom, made his mark early as a freshman. In the 2014 event, Lee went 7-for-23 with three RBIs, five runs and three stolen bases in six games. Lee also played in the finals last year, but it didn’t go so well for him, as he committed two errors as a shortstop. Lee said he really owes his teammates a lot, saying “I made two errors in the final, but we still won thanks to my teammates.”
He said his alma mater would display a strong performance this year as well. “Whimoon has pitcher An Woo-jin who received the MVP award last year. When I was a sophomore, our team was eliminated in the first round because of the easygoing attitude we had because we were the defending champions. I hope they don’t repeat that kind of mistake this year,” said Lee.
As a professional baseball player, Lee has been having an impressive first year in the KBO League. As of Thursday, Lee has had the league’s fifth most hits at 133, his batting average is .338 with 35 RBIs, 83 runs and nine stolen bases. Last month, Lee became the league’s second rookie to play in the All-Star Game.
The tournament will take place at Mokdong Baseball Stadium and Sinwol Baseball Park in Seoul through Aug. 28.
Players of the Whimoon High School’s baseball team run from the dugout as they celebrate their Bonghwang High School Baseball Tournament title win at Suwon KT Wiz Park, Aug. 16, 2016.