Kansas City rolls out the red carpet for SungWoo Lee, a Royals fan from Seoul, South Korea

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This is a hard story to summarize because there are so many elements to it and the way it has grown and grown — and continues to grow — is pretty unique.

You may just want to skip to Rany Jazayerli’s blog post from Sunday. He wrote about it beautifully.

The gist is this: A man living in Seoul, South Korea declares himself a Royals fan 20 years ago because he likes underdogs and thinks Kauffman Stadium looks beautiful and wants to use Major League Baseball broadcasts to improve his English skills.

That man begins frequenting Royals blogs and the Kansas City Star website in the early-to-mid 2000s to read more about the team. In 2011, he creates a Twitter account and begins interacting with other people who follow the Royals. Many of those people take a liking to the man’s optimism about an organization that hasn’t warranted much optimism and appreciate the novelty of someone rooting for the small-market Royals from more than 6,000 miles across the globe. Those fans encourage that man to come to Kansas City — that he will be taken care of, that “you’ll love it here.” Those people are good people, and that man eventually takes them up on the offer, and because those people are good people he winds up having the time of his life.

Rany Jazayerli explains the incredible #SungWooToKC adventure

Chris Kamler, who the world knows as @TheFakeNed, interviewed Sung Woo for his website in 2012, and you get the full sense of his personality and devotion there. Kamler ended the interview by once again needling Sung Woo about when he was going to finally fly to Kansas City to see the Royals play.

This summer, Sung Woo finally decided to take the plunge. Taking advantage of a job change, he was able to carve out ten days from his schedule to come to Kansas City, watch the Royals play, and maybe do a little sight-seeing and barbecue-eating while he was in town. He emailed Kamler and fellow Royals fan Dave Darby that he was buying his plane ticket and reserving his hotel room; they told him not to worry about transportation, that they’d pick him up and drive him to the ballpark and introduce him to Arthur Bryant’s and maybe the Negro League Museum while he was in town.

If the story had ended there, that would have been enough: three people who have never met, and can barely communicate with each other, bonding together like long-lost friends over a shared mutual interest in a crappy baseball team. A couple of guys were going to take a day or two off of work to show a complete stranger around town. Movies have been made with flimsier plots.

But then Kamler decided to have a little fun, and use his influence – and I use the term “influence” loosely for a guy who impersonates Ned Yost on Twitter and spends most of his time there making fart jokes – to publicize the fact that Sung Woo Lee was finally coming to Kansas City, and it would be great if other Royals fans would welcome him and make him feel at home.

He had no idea what he was getting himself into. None of us did. I tweeted Kamler on August 1st that since I wasn’t in town to see Sung Woo myself, I’d be happy to drop him a line and talk to him on the phone for a few minutes. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back here – talking about the Royals with someone isn’t exactly a sacrifice for me. I’m just pointing out that nine days ago, the story of Sung Woo Lee was still something that only the Royals Twitterati knew about, and the only ambition any of us had at the time was simply for Sung Woo to have a good time while he was in town.

And then things got a little crazy. Kamler started pushing the hashtag #SungWooToKC on Twitter to get the word out. Kamler can run a hashtag into the ground – if something like, say, #CareerEndingTwitterTypos was trending, he’ll tweet out 37 career-ending Twitter typos in quick succession. Kamler is a social media pro, and has enough big names in the KC media world following him to get the word out a fair bit. But still: how many people, aside from us hard-core Royals fan types who even use Twitter in the first place, were going to care about some guy from South Korea who was flying to Kansas City to watch a few baseball games?

This is the point where we have to tip our cap to the Royals themselves. Shortly after Kamler launched #SungWooToKC, the Royals reached out to Lee directly and offered him to throw out the first pitch at Monday’s game. Coming from an organization that has made missteps with the way it communicates to its fan base at times, this was an incredibly gracious and classy move. When trying to piece together how this story went viral, it’s – almost by definition – impossible to tell what the tipping point was that made Sung Woo Lee a phenomenon. But being offered to throw out the first pitch had to have made a difference. As a media story, “hey, there’s this Royals fan coming all the way from Korea to watch his first game at Kauffman Stadium” is nice, but “hey, there’s this Royals fan coming all the way from Korea to watch his first game at Kauffman Stadium, and the Royals are letting him throw out the first pitch on Monday!” has a much bigger hook.

The media, the fans, the entire damn city took the hook. Kamler wrote about Sung Woo’s approaching trip, including his itinerary while he was in town, for Pine Tar Press last weekend. At that point, I just hoped that his trip might warrant a brief mention in the Kansas City Star or something. By the time he landed in Kansas City Tuesday afternoon, he had four local TV crews waiting at the gate for his arrival. The city has laid out the red carpet for him ever since, and the story just continues to grow.

For posterity’s sake, I’m going to do my best to summarize what has happened since, though to save time I won’t be able to link to everything. To get the full flavor, check out Sung Woo’s Twitter feed, or Kamler’s.

– Greeted by camera crews Tuesday afternoon, was on four local TV broadcasts that night.

– Was featured in the Star Wednesday morning.

– Took a tour of the Negro League Museum later that morning, featuring tour guide Bob Kendrick and an entourage of two dozen people.

– Gets featured at Deadspin and USA Today.

– Has lunch at Arthur Bryant’s.

– Is interviewed on 610 Sports that afternoon.

Trolls the Best Fans In Baseball.

Tours Boulevard Brewing Company that evening.

– With the Royals still playing in Arizona, he gets a shoutout from Danny Duffy – who, behind the scenes, also had a lot to do with Sung Woo’s story becoming as big as it has – on the Royals pre-game show.

– Got an email from Mike Sweeney.

– This is all still Wednesday, by the way.

– Appeared on 96.5 The Buzz Thursday morning. Was given a helmet signed by Billy Butler and a hat signed by Bruce Chen from the station.

– Is featured in the English-language Korea Times.

– Received a personal tour of Kauffman Stadium from the Royals, led by Jennifer Splittorff, who presented him with a SPLITT patch and one of her dad’s bobbleheads afterwards. Goes out on the field, touches the grass, picks up a bullpen phone, basically does everything short of hitting a double in the gap.

– Gets a personalized “SungWoo Lee” #23 Royals jersey, presented by Curt Nelson, the Director of the Royals’ Hall of Fame.

– Walks across the Truman Sports Complex to tailgate before the Chiefs’ preseason opener.

– Is presented with his own personalized #1 jersey by the Chiefs, gets tickets near the 50-yard line. Meets former players and current team president Mark Donovan.

– Friday was a pre-scheduled trip to see the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals, so much of it was spent in the car. However, once there he managed to:

– Watch batting practice from next to the cage;

– Get invited into the clubhouse by manager Vance Wilson, who had heard about his story;

– Shake hands with every player one by one, and give Mitch Maier – back mentoring the baby Royals – a bear hug.

– Rode the Naturals’ pickup onto the field with their mascots.

– Got on the field as a human bowling ball during a mid-inning promotion. He managed to knock over six pins.

– Got Maier’s autographed jersey after the game.

Saturday, he was back in Kansas City for his first chance to watch the Royals play live.

– Prior to the game he was the star of a massive tailgate party in the parking lot, where he met his adoring masses.

Appeared on the Jumbotron in the middle of the fifth inning.

– Was a story on Sportscenter – SPORTSCENTER – after the game Saturday night.

– Appeared in studio with Joel Goldberg and Jeff Montgomery on today’s pre-game show. Montgomery gave him an autographed glove as a gift.

– Took part in the dance-off competition against Jimmy Faseler – whosespot as Everyone’s Favorite Royals Fan he usurped. Sung Woo won, of course. (Sorry, Jimmy.)

– Was featured at MLB.com.

Somewhere along the way he appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered. He’s gotten tweets sent to him from Jeremy Guthrie, Eric Hosmer, and Billy Butler (at least – there may be more.)

The Royals have won five straight games since SungWoo landed and are just a half-game back of the Tigers in the American League Central standings entering play Monday night against the visiting A’s.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Dodgers 8, Mets 2Yasmani Grandal hit two solo homers, but it was Yasiel Puig‘s three-run homer in the bottom of the fourth which padded the Dodgers’ lead to 5-1 and essentially ended the competitive portion of the ballgame. It started the cranky portion, however, as Puig admired the blast and took a slow trot which caused several Mets players to chirp at him. After the game Wilmer Flores said this of Puig:

“I don’t think he knows what having respect for the game is. We’re playing horrible right now, we don’t need his  sh–.”

I haven’t seem a Wilmer so testy since the last time I watched “The Maltese Falcon.” I dunno, Wilmer. Maybe play better? The Mets have dropped six of seven. The Dodgers have won six straight and 12 of 13.

Mariners 7, Tigers 5: Elsewhere in unwritten rules land, Jarrod Dyson bunted to break up Justin Verlander‘s perfect game in the sixth. Unlike the Mets, no one with the Tigers took exception with it. Probably because it sparked a three-run rally for the M’s which put them back in the ballgame. Nelson Cruz drove in two that inning with a double and three overall. Mitch Haniger homered.

Marlins 2, Nationals 1: I wrote this one up in detail here. Short version: Max Scherzer loses both the no-hitter and the game in the eighth inning. Guess it wasn’t a good day for taking no-hitters deep in the game for current and/or former members of the Tigers rotation. I know he’s on the DL now, but please, someone check on Drew Smyly.

Rays 8, Reds 3Trevor Plouffe and Taylor Featherston homered. Steven Souza and Logan Morrison each drove in two runs. A really long rundown happened too, nabbing Billy Hamilton. It took five throws and an outfielder made the putout. I can’t find a real time video of it from MLB, but this is pretty funny. The lighted dot in the top is Mallex Smith, who came a long way in from left to finally make the play:

Royals 6, Red Sox 4: Down 4-2 in the bottom of the eighth, the Royals loaded the bases and Sal Perez smacked a grand slam. He used one of Miguel Cabrera‘s bats to do it too. Miggy had given the bat to Drew Butera who gave it to Perez. Thanks to the blast, the Royals moved three games ahead of Detroit for third place in the Central. Thanks, Miggy!

Cardinals 7, Phillies 6: Rather than quickly recap the details of a very ugly Phillies loss, I’m gonna just send you to Bill’s recap of this game from late last night. Bill, a Phillies fan, does not spare a detail here, even though every part of him probably wanted to forget this game even happened. It’s sort of like one of those morbidity and mortality reports they make doctors give after patients die. Sure, you’d like to put it all behind you, but there is a value in hashing out all of the horrible mistakes. Doing so makes doctors better in the long run. I’m not sure what Bill is getting out of this. Either way, his patient is dead on a slab.

Padres 3, Cubs 2Erick Aybar hit a home run to things up at two in the sixth inning and Luis Torrens walked with the bases loaded against Koji Uehara to put the Pads ahead in the eighth. Torrens wouldn’t have even been playing if it weren’t for the fact that Austin Hedges was hurt and if it wasn’t for Antony Rizzo’s bad slide the other night, Hedges wouldn’t have been hurt. Some folks might call that karma.

Indians 5, Orioles 1: Carlos Carrasco struck out 10 in six shutout innings, scattering seven hits. Francisco Lindor homered and drove in three. Cleveland has won seven of eight. Baltimore has lost 10 of 14 and have allowed at least five runs in 18 consecutive games. That’s two short of the major league record set by the 1924 Philadelphia Phillies.

Yankees 8, Angels 4Didi Gregorius and Matt Holliday each homered as the Yankees end a seven game losing streak. Despite the win, the Yankees still got the now de rigueur terrible outing from Tyler Clippard, who came into a six-run game in the ninth inning and promptly gave up a double and a two-run homer, causing Joe Girardi to go to Aroldis Chapman despite it not being a save situation. That homer was by Martin Maldonado. He hit two in the game, in fact.

Braves 5, Giants 3Matt Kemp hit a two-run walkoff homer in the 11th inning to give the Braves the win. Matt Adams hit a two-run homer and Tyler Flowers went deep as well. It was the Braves 12th walkoff win. That leads the bigs this year.

Blue Jays 7, Rangers 5: The Jays jumped out to a 6-o lead in the first inning and built it to 7-0 after three. That’s all the scoring they’d do, but it was enough even though the Rangers made it close. Darwin Barney hit a two-run homer in that first frame. The most exciting play of the game, however, was Joey Gallo hitting an inside the park homer:

He was aided, of course, by Steven Pearce losing the ball, slamming into the wall and falling, but an inside-the-park dong is an inside-the-park dong.

Brewers 4, Pirates 3: Down 3-2 in the seventh, Domingo Santana jacked a two-run homer to give the Brewers the lead and the win. Later, Orlando Arcia made a great defensive play to end the game. It only shows up as a 6-3 putout in the box score, but it was dang spiffy:

Twins 4, White Sox 2: The young stars lead the Twins to victory: Jose Berrios allowed two runs over eight innings, striking out eight and Miguel Sano homered for the second straight night. The future looks bright for Minnesota.

Diamondbacks 16, Rockies 5: You don’t win many games when you allow ten runs in a single inning like the Rockies did here in the fourth. Brandon Drury drove in six runs without even homering. Indeed, the Rockies only gave up one homer, and it was already 12-3 when that one happened. All this on the day when the Dbacks skipped batting practice. Maybe there’s a lesson in there.

Actually, no, there’s no lesson in there. Stuff just happens. That’s basically true for most things in the universe: Stuff. Just. Happens.

 

Astros 5, Athletics 1: Houston hits a lot of homers, but here they strung together five singles in their three-run sixth inning. Carlos Correa would homer in the ninth, but the game was already over by then. Mike Fiers allowed one run over six innings for his fifth straight win.

Jarrod Dyson bunted and broke up Justin Verlander’s perfect game attempt

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Update: Both Verlander and Ausmus took no issue with Dyson’s bunt. Via MLB.com’s Jason Beck:

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Tigers starter Justin Verlander had thrown five perfect innings against the Mariners and retired Mitch Haniger on strikes to begin the sixth inning. That brought up the speedy Jarrod Dyson. With a 1-1 count in a 4-0 game, Dyson laid a bunt down the first base line. Both Verlander and first baseman Miguel Cabrera charged towards the ball and second baseman Ian Kinsler was late covering the bag, so there was absolutely zero chance Dyson would’ve been out.

In the rather hefty tome of baseball’s unwritten rules, “don’t bunt to break up a perfect game or no-hitter” is somewhere in there. Ben Davis famously and successfully broke up Curt Schilling’s perfect game bid in the eighth inning back in 2001, which earned him some scorn. Then-manager Bob Brenly called the bunt “chicken,” though Schilling didn’t have any unkind words towards Davis after the game. It’s happened a few times since then.

Following the bunt single, Verlander walked Mike Zunino and allowed an infield single to Jean Segura to load the bases. Ben Gamel brought in the Mariners’ first run with a single to center field. Verlander had light at the end of the tunnel when he struck out Robinson Cano for the second out, but served up a two-run double to Nelson Cruz, ending his evening. Shane Greene relieved him.

Verlander and manager Brad Ausmus will almost certainly be asked for their thoughts on Dyson’s bunt after the game. It’ll be interesting to see if they take the high road or the low road.