A Grand Slam Experience. Baseball in Korea

By Brian Yaeck

One of the best sports to watch in Korea has to be baseball. Although Japan is better known in North America as the enthusiastic Asian embracer of America’s favourite past time, Korea certainly is an equal or greater match in terms of its excitement and skillful adaptation of the game.
After all, South Korea won the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics and narrowly lost to Japan in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. According to the International Baseball Federation, the South Korea National Team is the 2nd best after Cuba as well.
When there isn’t some kind of international competition happening, the best place to watch a game is to see one of the 8 teams play in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), the Korean version of Major League Baseball. Seoul has 3 teams, while Incheon, Daejon, Daeju, Busan, and Gwangju each respectively have a team. Each team plays 133 regular season games from March until September with a playoff round for the championship.

Besides the ability to field teams with world class athletes, the KBO offers a few other insights and advantages into the way Koreans roll. The first thing you notice is the name of the baseball organizations. While the team names are usually lifted straight from the Major League (Twins, Giants, and Tigers) or something similar, the organization names aren’t named after the city they play in, but the large Korean corporation that owns them, such as the Samsung Lions, based in Daegu. While it’s a little too corporate for my liking, I suppose it does cut right to the chase and is honest about the fact that some rich conglomerate owns the team. 7 or 8 corporations do seem to run a big chuck of the Korean economy as well I guess. Although, it would be strange if the Toronto Maple Leafs were rebranded as the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan Maple Leafs (yes, a bunch of teachers own a majority stake in a NHL hockey team).

On the walk to the stadium you will also notice plenty of vendors selling fried chicken, kimbop, dried squid, beer, and other goodies. That’s right, buying stadium food and drinks is optional in Korea! It’s totally cool to bring your own stuff to the game, and even if you don’t, it’s not that expensive inside. The inexpensive cost of a ticket is also another bonus. The cheapest seats in the ballpark cost a trivial 6,000 won, while the most expensive seats (well, seats with tables behind home plate) cost 20,000 won. Compare that with the typical astronomical costs of a game back home!

Once you sit down in the stands with your inexpensive beer and fried chicken, you’ll see the other great advantage of a Korean baseball match, the fans. It goes without saying that Koreans tend to take a collectivist approach to most things, so it is perfectly reasonable that this mindset is applied to rooting for the home team.

During a game, the stands typically divide between the home team and the visitors. Each section has a stage of cheerleaders and a head cheerleader guy to lead the crowd in the next cheer. Usually a few fans bring some drums along as well. During the entire game, the fans will do coordinated cheers, sing songs, chant, and loudly bang their plastic thunder sticks together, or in the case of Giants fans, wave their pom poms made out of shredded newspapers. Once in a while the cheerleaders will of course dance to the latest K-Pop anthem as well. The non-stop coordinated cheers of thousands of baseball fans are almost more exciting to watch than the game itself. It’s kind of like the coordination during the intense opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. The synchronized Korean fans certainly can beat that lame wave thing we all do.

Although there are only 8 teams in a league that is less than 30 years old, strong loyalties exist with the teams and are entrenched within regional identities. Whenever the Kia Tigers visit a Seoul team for example, you can be sure that the visitors section will outnumber the home section with the large Jeolla community still representing their home province while working in the big city. The playoffs are also an intense period within families as family members often have a different favourite going in. If there is one thing Koreans love to argue and talk about it, baseball is definitely one of those things. A Kia Tigers fan can no doubt be just as intense as a Detroit Tigers fan, perhaps even more so.

This summer, definitely try to attend a few games and take in the wonderful cultural spectacle of a game Koreans intensely love to watch.

Teams, Cities, and Stadiums:
Doosan Bears – Seoul, Jasmil Baseball Stadium
Hanwha Eagles – Daejon, Daejon Baseball Stadium
Kia Tigers – Gwangju, Moodeung Stadium
Lotte Giants – Sajik Baseball Stadium, Busan
LG Twins — Jasmil Baseball Stadium, Seoul
Samsung Lions — Daegu, Daegu Baseball Stadium
SK Wyverns —Incheon, Munhak Baseball Stadiu,
Seoul Heroes — Mokdong Baseball Stadium, Seoul

For complete game schedules and locations visit this site.