Korean 'superfan' of Royals headed back to KC

FILE - In this Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, longtime Kansas City Royals fan Sung Woo Lee, from South Korea, throws the ceremonial first pitch before a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics, in Kansas City, Mo. Lee, a die-hard, long-time Kansas City Roy
Charlie Riedel, File

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) The die-hard, long-time Kansas City Royals fan from Seoul who became an international celebrity after he was superstitiously credited with sparking the team's playoff run created quite a scene at Kauffman Stadium Tuesday night before the World Series opener.

Fans clogged stadium concourses, snapping hundreds of photographs of Sung Woo Lee as he made his way to his seat before the first pitch. Lee posed for photos and waved to the adoring blue-clad Royals faithful.

Despite living more than 6,500 miles from Kansas City, Lee sure looked like a familiar face at the Royals' ballpark - and to some, he was.

After learning of his passion for their team, a group of American fans helped Lee arrange a visit to Kansas City in August so he could watch a Royals game in person for the first time. By the time Lee returned to Seoul, the Royals, perennial also-rans, had won nine out of 10 games and were in first place in their division, and Lee had gained widespread fame among sports fans in the United States and in South Korea.

The 38-year-old duty free shop employee is reluctant to make World Series predictions because of worries about jinxing the team. But he also said he can't help imagining a celebration with Royals' players in a champagne-soaked locker room.

Despite being considered a good luck charm by the club and its fan base, Lee said in a telephone interview Monday night that he doesn't feel any pressure.

''I just want to root for the team with fellow Royals fans as hard as I can,'' he said. ''I will try to enjoy every moment.''

Lee belongs to a generation of South Korean sports fans in their 30s and 40s who developed an attachment to American professional sports by watching a local TV network for U.S. servicemen stationed in South Korea to guard the heavily-armed border with North Korea.

Free from the obligations of supporting the ''local'' team, South Korean fans often developed interests in major league teams for quirky reasons. Some of them, for instance, began cheering for the New York Yankees because they thought the team had the best uniforms. Others supported the Atlanta Braves because of Fred McGriff's exaggerated swing motion.

Lee, who has more than 21,800 followers on Twitter, said he began supporting the Royals because he fell in love with Kauffman Stadium when he saw it in the early 90s in a short highlight package shown on what was then known as the American Forces Korea Network.

''The Royals won, and they did the fireworks show afterward with the fountain and the crown logo on the stadium in the background,'' Lee said. ''It was amazing and beautiful.''

An official from Lee's employer, Shinsegae Duty Free, thought that Lee's international celebrity was both surprising and amusing. As soon as the Royals reached the World Series, the company found itself receiving huge attention about whether it would allow Lee to attend. Lee joined Shinsegae just a month ago in a busy time when the company is preparing a bid for a new shop at the Incheon International Airport.

''We have arranged his vacation days so that he could stay in the U.S. throughout the run of the World Series,'' company official Lee Jeong-wook said. He added, with a laugh: ''If the Royals win in four, his vacation will be cut short.''

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Baseball Writer Ben Walker contributed to this report from Kansas City, Mo.

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