EXPLORING KOREA: Baseball Korean-style

by Aaron J JacksonCrabb,, 25/09/2011

Affected by the surge of warm August afternoons, I invited my wife to attend a baseball game in Seoul at Jamsil Baseball Stadium. One hundred and three minutes after leaving our home in Paju, I broke through the Sports Complex Station turnstile searching for Exit #5. As I passed an ATM, I stopped and withdrew cash... after all it’s a ballpark.

Climbing two steps at a time, two kids sprinted past in a blur of black and red jerseys mitts attached to right hands. Smiling, I reached the top step, several food stalls coming into view with cans of OB, Hite and Cass sharing ice bins with mineral water and Pocari Sweat. Ajumma’s (older women) flashed smiles, waved hands and gestured for customers to purchase their quantities of fluids, dried fish and squid or gimbap (sushi rolls). Stepping past the ladies, I bumped into an ajushi (older man) holding a business card with a stadium outline on it. “Need ticket?” he inquired. “Yes. How much?” “20,000.”
An index finger pointing towards section 205, normally a 13,000 won ticket. “Thank you. My friend is in line. If no tickets I’ll come back,” I responded. “Sold out,” his words bounced off my back.

Fake Watches “Are they sold out?” I asked Shauna standing in line. “I don’t think so? People are getting tickets,” she pointed to our right. Stepping to the window she points to section 205, just above the cheerleader stage dul-j’sayeo (two tickets please). Nodding the agent responds, “Sorry. Outfield only. 8,000 won.” Shauna slides him 20,000 and he returns two tickets and change. “Let’s hope for a home run instead?” I state smiling.

With an hour to kill, we go into the Twins fan shop. It’s crowded; more than usual thanks to the End of Summer Sale 50-20% off. A hundred people are in line outside awaiting jersey screen-prints. Inside, its worse - limbs of people everywhere grabbing, pulling, trying on and smelling of kimchi and beer. “Hey, I’m getting out of here. Its too crowded,” I shouted “Okay. This place is nuts.” Zigzagging around shelves, under arms and into fresh air. Out of this shop into the next - it's a GS25 so I pick up four 500ml cans of Hite and nacho chips. Next, we search for roasted squid or fish. Finally, we enter another apparel shop. Five minutes after entering, Shauna is at the counter paying for her new LG Twins black Away Jersey (43,000 won). Our baseball jersey shopping done, we begin the search for the outfield entrance.

As we walk, we are hit with a cacophony of sounds from food stall promoters using loudspeaker systems to announce game day specials. As their voices penetrate the air, I get the feeling I understand loudspeaker propaganda warfare. Ears splitting, we sprint, weaving in and out until we reach safety on the backside of those huge speakers. “Seriously? Are my ears bleeding?” I ask. “What?” she shouts.

On the north end of the building, there's another line of people standing in front of two black, orange and white tour buses with ‘Lotte Giants’ written across them. Fans are holding black markers, jerseys, baseballs and other memorabilia hoping to get a players autograph. Less than fifteen meters away, two LG Twins players are seated signing autographs and having their photographs taken with fans and mascots. Moving along, we continue looking for our entrance. Shauna buys two gimbap rolls, receiving bottled water as service. We try our usual ramp entrance, but are denied when I try to get near
the sales tent. We have nearly gone all the way around the stadium when we finally find our entrance. “Go figure. Should have gone left?” “Yep. But then I wouldn’t have this nice jersey,” she reminds me.

Twenty minutes until game time, and we are searching in the outfields first-come-first- seated section. We acquire seats after a few minutes of searching. Our seats are in the middle three-quarters to the top. I wonder if they can hit homeruns this far? Fidgeting, I get up and go explore for fifteen minutes. “Where did you go?” “It was an adventure but I scored roasted fish, one of these arm bands for you and this limited edition LG Twins ball cap.” “Nice. I waited to enjoy the gimbap roll with you. I totally forgot we had beers until a couple minutes ago,” her huge smile emphasizing happiness. “How do you like these seats?” she inquired. “Honestly, I love ‘em. There’s no foul ball net in the way and you can see the entire stadium. But I really wanted to be up in the noisy section near the cheerleaders. Perhaps next time?” I stated. “What about you?” “I like ‘em about the same. I’d rather be over there, too” she said pointing at the LG side along first base, “but I’m not going to complain since these tickets were only eight bucks.”

As the Twins took to the field supporters for both teams began cheering loudly, drums beating, loudspeakers booming, whistles being blown and plastic cheer sticks banging together. Sitting forward on our seats the first pitch was released with a successful base hit. The first three innings dribbled by after that first hit, batters popping out, grounding out, smashing bats, both teams going three up, three down. Finally in the fourth, Lotte took the lead with back to back to back singles pushing the first batter around the bases. But scoring no further.

As the teams changed on field possession all fans erupted into cheering swaying song the stadium slowly becoming louder and louder, “Is it me or is this section less noisy than those seats we had above the dugout?” Shauna asked. “Definitely. I think its because there are not any seats above us. Nor an overhang to deflect sound.” “True but these fans here seem less crazy, too.”

Nodding in agreement Twins fans erupted into song cheering their catcher as he approached the batters box chanting, “Cho In-Seong needs a home run.” Two balls whizzed past him both resulting in balls. As the third pitch approached, he chose to swing his bat connecting wood to leather smashing the ball as it flew higher and higher into the evening sky. While the ball floated into the air, the entire left outfield stands jumped to their feet cheers filling the air as the ball reached the back wall bouncing back into play. Fans swayed left and right, shaking their plastic sticks together, noise erupting from all
areas as Cho In-Seong delivered.

Entering the cusp between top and bottom of the seventh inning, also known as the seventh inning stretch, the entire stadium stood up in unison while both teams wandered out onto shallow field. On the big screen two cartoon characters appear, as did a banner at the bottom. The banner began to bounce up and down along to music coming over stadium speakers as fans began singing along to the banner as well as following the stretching routine put on by the two cartoon characters.

After the stretching the game went back into full swing players trying to fulfill the win as fans cheered when their team went up to bat. By the end of nine innings, LG Twins scored three runs beating Lotte Giants by two.

NOTE: The KBO playoffs start on Saturday at 2 PM in Incheon. The SK Wyverns will battle the KIA Tigers in a five game series to move on to Round Two of the KBO playoffs. More details in What's Going On.

About the Author: Full of vim and vigor, Aaron is a globetrotting freelance photographer and writer, who has lived in Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and the United States. He has traveled extensively throughout the oceanic region and back again. Catch up on his latest misadventures on his blog.

Photo by Aaron J Jackson Crabb.


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