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9-23-2015


Sungwoo
SUNGWOO LEE

Sungwoo says
he’ll never
forget the love from KC
South Korean Royals fan is
subject of ESPN film

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

There are moments that will make you laugh. There are moments that will tug at your heart.

Around 400 folks were given access to the world premiere of the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary #BringBackSungWoo on Monday night at Union Station in Kansas City. A standing ovation at the close of the less than 30 minute feature sent a message as to how well the film was received.

Sungwoo Lee, a South Korean who adopted the Kansas City Royals as his team many years ago after watching a team highlight film, first made a trip to Kansas City last August. While here, the Royals went on an impressive streak of winning and climbed up the standings. Also while here, Sungwoo captured the hearts of the entire city as in addition to cheering on the Royals, he took in the sights and sounds of the city, thanks in large part to a group of Royals fans who had befriended him on Twitter.

One of those fans who had befriended Sungwoo is The Landmark’s own Chris Kamler. Kamler was instrumental in organizing Sungwoo’s visit around Kansas City and basically serving as the South Korean’s public relations person while here. Kamler has several appearances in the ESPN documentary.

The video will be online on Oct. 7 on espn.com and grantland.com. The air date for ESPN has not been confirmed as of yet.

Josh Swade, the filmmaker, says normally the 30 for 30 short pieces are online only.

“But ESPN loves this movie and wanted to find time to air it on television. We don’t have an air date as of yet. I think they are playing with formats right now,” Swade said Monday night.

Without spoiling it for viewers, the film takes up the story of Sungwoo’s return trip to Kansas City for the World Series last October. As the documentary reveals, Swade made a personal visit to South Korea last October in an effort to sway Sungwoo’s bosses to allow the Royals’ Korean good luck charm to leave work and return to Kansas City for the World Series.

Swade’s use of humor in this portion of the film is endearing.

Sungwoo was not originally scheduled to be on hand for Monday night’s premiere. The original plan called for him to take part in an interview session by satellite after the film’s showing. But that all changed. He was there.

“He paid for his trip back here (for Monday’s premiere) out of his own pocket,” said Kamler.

Sungwoo was swarmed during a Red Carpet portion of Monday night’s festivities, doing interviews with local TV stations and posing for still photographs as well. Some of the local folks who appear in the documentary, including Kamler and other members of what has become known as Royals Twitter, also spent some time on the Red Carpet.

When the film was over, Sungwoo and the film’s directors took part in a question-and-answer session hosted by Danny Parkins of 610 Sports and Michelle Davidson of KSHB-TV, Channel 41.

Asked about his time in Kansas City and how it compares to his life in South Korea, Sungwoo said:

“I never expected that kind of greeting from the media and all those Kansas City people. I’m a totally no-name guy in Seoul. Never much like this,” he said. “Only my friends know me as some big crazy Major League Baseball fan.”

Asked if he would consider moving to Kansas City, he answered: “If I can get a job at a Walmart as a merchandise manager, who knows?” he joked, obviously aware of Royals owner David Glass’ connections to Walmart.

In his homeland, Sungwoo is a buyer for a retail duty-free company.

Asked for some final words, Sungwoo said:

“I can’t say thank you enough to all of you and all of Kansas City. I just came here to say thank you to as many as I can face-to-face. It’s a good chance for me to say thank you to many Royals fans in person,” he said.

“I tried some English songs for karaoke yesterday. One of the songs I can easily sing is by The Carpenters, Top of the World. I so much changed since I made a trip to Kansas City. I learned a lot from you guys. I tried to be nice all the time. I will never forget about all of your love and support. Let’s keep in touch. And go Royals,” Sungwoo added.

As much as an impact as Kansas City had on Sungwoo, the always polite and respectful man from South Korea has had quite an effect on many Royals fans in Kansas City.

“I keep telling people that the story of Sungwoo Lee is unbelievable, and I think local filmmaker Josh Swade has done a good job of relaying just how unbelievable it was and just how special Sungwoo is,” Kamler said.

“Being a Royals fan for many of us has meant watching hopeless teams trudge through the summer year-in and year-out, but what Sungwoo has taught me is that hope should never die. He has certainly changed my perspective about the team that I love and the community of Royals Twitter that we all live in. My life remains forever changed by our friendship and I’m really very excited to see our story online and on ESPN in October,” Kamler remarked.