SEOUL--After a storied 22-year career as a catcher for the Seibu Lions, Tsutomu Ito led the Pacific League club to a Japan Series title as the Lions' skipper. He eventually went on to a successful career in the broadcast booth and was also a coach for the Japanese national team at the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
This offseason, Ito surprised many in the Japanese baseball world when he decided to leave Japanese baseball and take a coaching position with the Doosan Bears in South Korea.
“I was ready for some stimulation,” Ito said about his move to South Korea.
At the 2009 WBC, Japan fought five fierce games against South Korea. Ito became interested in what made the South Korean baseball team so strong.
A year ago, Ito went to watch the Bears' season opener in Seoul. He said he was impressed by the tremendous enthusiasm from the fans. During his stay, Ito also had a chat with the club president. Last summer, the Doosan Bears asked Ito to become part of the team's coaching staff.
Ito has been supporting the Doosan Bears’ new manager Kim Jin-wook since last fall. The environment in South Korea is different than Japan--the league has mostly aging facilities and a lack of supporting staff members. But Ito also learned that South Korean players have raw talent and that top athletes have excellent skills. Most of all, the players are eager to learn.
Korean professional baseball, which kicked off its season on April 7, had its debut season in 1982. Ito hopes to help boost the overall level in the 30-year-old league by first improving his team. He believes this will ultimately stimulate the Japanese baseball industry.
“Eventually, I’d like to see official exhibition games between Japan and South Korea, as well as an Asian League,” Ito said.
Ito doesn’t speak Korean, "but I can write my name in Hangul,” he said.
His first goal is to learn basic Korean in order to communicate with the players on his team.
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