Koreans Love Baseball Too

13 Apr

I’ve been anticipating the start of the Korean baseball season pretty much since the end of last season when, due to still being a newbie to Korea, I knew little about it and was likewise unable to secure any tickets to a game here in Busan. It’s a shame because the Busan squad, Lotte Giants, happens to be one of the better squads in league.

At first glance Korean baseball seems somewhat of a joke. The Korean Baseball Organization, the equivalence to the MLB in the states, has only eight teams and several of them adopt their names from the majors (Lotte Giants, Kia Tigers, LG Twins). I also heard that the caliber of play is not comparable to that of the MLB (not that I expected it would be) and that each team is only allowed to have two foreigner players on their roster. Unfortunately the the salary cap for them is so low, teams are rarely able to lure in quality players from abroad.

Still, Koreans take their baseball very seriously. Walk into to any corner store, bar, or galbi joint on game night and there will probably be several televisions tuned into the game. A single mention of the Lotte Giants in my classroom sends the students into a frenzy complete with reenactments of recent home runs and the spouting off of scores and players’ names.  As I’m discussing how to get home opener tickets with other Busan waygooks, a friend of mine tells me he’s been told that many people sleep outside the night before games just to be first in line to purchase tickets after the online seats sells out. I don’t know if this is true or not but if it is, thats the type of fandom I can respect and ultimately want to be a part of (some of you may remember my soju infused Minnesota Twins rant from last year).

Despite the possible odds, I decide to make a go at getting some tickets to the home opener for myself and Kicker Jean. She’s normally a Samsung Lions supporter, but for today at least, she’s sworn allegiance to the Giants.

The Plan is to have a friend who lives by the stadium arrive early and hop in line to secure tickets for himself as well as others who are planning to show up later. I arrive to find him about 15 people from the ticket booth. It looks certain that we’ll be able to get tickets. Right as join him in line, the entire crowd turns around an begins walking away from the ticket booth. We’re less that 20 ft from the counter and the tickets sell out.

Luckily I spot an ajossi ticket scalper nearby. We are absolutely screwed on the price (having to pay double for an otherwise 7,500  Won general admission ticket) but I don’t care. It’s the home opener and the price is still comparable to what I might pay back home for Twins tickets. Unfortunately, my friend who arrived early to stand in line decides not to grab a ticket from the scalper and heads home. I feel bad because he showed earlier than myself and Kicker Jean, yet we were the ones who were getting to see the game. I phone him up and tell him we’ll save him a seat if he wants to try to find a scalper who will sell him a single ticket, but he’s already made it to the subway. There’s nothing else to do but head into the stadium.

Possible the best part about going to a Korean baseball game is that you can bring whatever food and drink you want into the stadium with you. Korean fans seem to take full advantage of this. I see people carrying in whole pizzas, cases of beer, instant noodles, soju, makgoli, kimbap–even fried chicken. Instantly, I fall in love. If you opt to buy your grub at the stadium the possibilities are countless. Instead of  the peanuts and cracker jacks you’d find at an MLB stadium, one can get  dried squid and silkworms. Instead of hot dogs and potato chips, you can enjoy samgyupsal and soon-dae –all of which can be bought either in the stands or at booths around the stadium.

Back in the states, I’m surprised they don’t hand out lube when you purchase a baseball ticket because you definitely get fucked when it comes to game time concessions. $7 bucks for a beer, $5 bucks a hot dog and damn near $10 for a hamburger and fries, and what’s worse, no fried chicken.

After buying a couple jerseys and more food and beer than is probably needed to enjoy nine innings, we take our seats to see the Giants take on the Hanwa Eagles. Before long we’re chanting along with the crowd and high-fiving everyone in the vicinity. I don’t know any of the chants so I simply match the inflections of my voice to that of the crowd. Similar to how people often mumble over the unknown words of a favorite song. From what I can tell, no one notices that I have no idea what the hell I’m saying and the college kids sitting in the same row seem impressed at my participation, so I do my best to keep up with the crowd  Later in the game we end up doing a few cheers together swaying back and forth; arm in arm.

Besides it being my first baseball game in Korea, it would also be the first time I’ve ever witnessed out-of-the-park home run.

The culprit?

Fatty Lotte Giants power slugger Lee Dae-Ho. This man is a beast. Last year he dominated the league in every offensive category except for one: steals. Fatty can hit, but fatty can’t run. Coincidentally, after Lee knocked one out of the park, Kicker Jean points out that I’m actually wearing his jersey (when I bought it, I just picked the biggest size and went with it).  I fight the urge to pretend like I knew who he was the whole time.

The most bizarre momemt in the game comes when, during the seventh or eighth inning every fan in the stadium puts a blown-up orange platic bag on their head. I’ve heard of this a few times, but no one has been able to adequately explain to me what it symbolizes.

My guess is that it’s a method used to rally the team toward a victory when they are losing, and to uphold the victory when they’re winning. Whatever the case, we have a hard time getting our bags inflated and attatched to our heads, but eventually are successful after the people sitting next to us helps us out. My ears are too small to keep the handles around them so I end up deflating it and wrapping it around my head like a bandana.

Many will say that it was sound pitching and home runs that lead the Lotte Giants to a victory that day, bit I like to think that it was the work of our orange rally bags that made it all possible.

I won’t be able to enjoy a Minnesota Twins game for long while yet, but for now I’m content with watching the Giants. At the very least, it will give me some material to chew up class during dull lessons at work.


Kimchi Dreadlocks


One Response to “Koreans Love Baseball Too”

  1. Buddakao April 26, 2011 at 11:38 PM #

    yo them orange bags don´t even seem real! hahaha, that shit is crazy man, you moved to crazy world. Sounds like a lot of fun though, you gotta cop me a jersey at your next game, I want an authentic.

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