A long time ago, the Pigeon Forge High School baseball coaches and players taught me the innings and outs of baseball. I know a bit of the lingo and how to keep a scorebook, although I still get confused about when a strikeout is marked with a forward K or a backward K.
My basic understanding of baseball has made it one of the few sports that I enjoy watching. I understand the rules and principles, much more so than with football and soccer. Therefore, I like going to games, enjoying the uniforms, and pointing out when the hitter is a lefty. I was quite excited to learn that baseball is popular in Korea, just as it is in the US, and I knew that we had to see a game.
This weekend we went to Jamsil Stadium in Seoul to watch the Doosan Bears take on the LG Twins; both are professional teams and part of the Korean Baseball Organization. Interestingly, Jamsil Stadium is the home field for both of these teams. We had to have some Korean friends reserve our tickets for us; the websites were all in Korean, and I was not able to decipher it well enough to make reservations. We wanted to reserve tickets because games are often sold out. Our friends told us that our tickets, only ₩9,000 a piece, did not guarantee us a specific seat and we would need to arrive early to find a spot.
Jared and I arrived at the stadium an hour early, thinking that this would be plenty of time to find a seat. Ummm, no. The section we were sitting in was the outfield; seats surrounded the entire baseball field. Apparently these seats run on a first come, first serve basis; an hour before the game and there were no seats to be found! In the outfield! I couldn’t believe it. We started wandering through the rows and finally found one seat that wasn’t reserved and convinced a group to scoot down and provide us a second seat. I’m still not sure how we managed to get two seats together, the place was packed with people! The people who weren’t lucky enough to grab a seat spread out blankets on the stadium steps or walkways, anywhere they could find a spot. I really want to know how early some of those people arrived to be able to claim their spots.
So, we sit down to enjoy our beautiful view of … an umbrella. The woman sitting in front of us had massive umbrella open to shade herself from the merciless sun. I’m sure her shade was quite lovely, but her umbrella was more than a little bit in my bubble. She was not alone though; the entire stadium was packed with people and their umbrellas. I can’t imagine how people would react to that in the US. Most Americans feel that if I pay for my seat, then I should be able to see from my seat; and if I can’t see because of you, then it is your fault. In Korea, the mindset is more like: I am in my seat; I need shade; I use my umbrella; if that bothers you, then it is your problem for being bothered by it. We have noticed this difference in social awareness in many situations; it’s not bad or wrong, just different. I’m sure some Koreans visit America and are flabbergasted by how socially conscious we can be at times. Luckily the umbrella went down when the game started!
There were a few other things that reminded us that, despite enjoying America’s pastime, we were definitely not in America. The game began, just like in the US, with the national anthem. Though it was not our Star Spangled Banner which was being praised, Jared and I stood to pay respect to Korea’s anthem, because that’s what you do. Except, that’s not what everyone did. The vast majority of the spectators stood, some with their hands over their heart, while the song was played; however, there were several people in our section alone who continued to sit, talk, and eat. When I say “talk,” I don’t mean they quietly murmured; talking, yelling, laughing at loud levels during the anthem. Jared and I both exchanged surprised looks at this. There are many Americans who have concerns about government, laws, the establishment, but in my experience, you’d have a hard time finding even outspoken, dissatisfied Americans yelling during the national anthem, and especially at a baseball game. That’s pretty much the most American it gets: the national anthem at a baseball game. And suppose someone in the states did choose to act that way during the anthem, can you imagine the reaction from people around him/her? I don’t mean to at all imply that Americans are more patriotic or respectful than Koreans, just that our traditions vary.
You may bring in your own food and drinks to the stadium, which is awesome. There were a few places inside the stadium to buy snacks, but more outside the gates. We were quite happy with some delicious Korean fried chicken and french fries. I didn’t see a hot dog on a bun while we were there; however, a gentleman in front of us was eating a hot dog that had been wrapped in plastic. Just a straight hot dog, no bun, no condiments, just processed meat poking out of a plastic wrapper. Ugh.
Also, there were cheerleaders. Which I really didn’t have much of an opinion about other than, “huh, there’s cheerleaders…at a baseball game.” There were only four cheerleaders per team, which seemed like a very small amount to me. The cheerleaders definitely did their part in leading the crowd in song and chants. When their respective team was at bat, that side of the stadium would roar to life. They have special dances, songs, and hundreds of inflatable sticks they beat together. I tried to join in the fun, but there was a bit of a language barrier. A few times I was able to catch when they were saying the batter’s name and “home run.” “Son Ju In: HOME RUN! Son Ju In: HOME RUN!” At other times, Jared and I just made up phrases to match the syllables in the Korean’s chant. “We don’t know! We don’t know!” These fans are dedicated; the enthusiasm was much more of what you would experience at the World Series than just a regular season game. It looked exhausting, but I admired their energy.
There was a sixth inning stretch instead of in the seventh inning. And most disappointingly there was no Chicken Dance, Take Me Out to the Ballgame, or (from the many Round Rock Express games in Texas) Deep in the Heart of Texas. The only fan game/involvement we saw was a female Doosan Bears fan race a female LG Twins fans in chugging a beer. It wasn’t really “chugging” since they sipped it through straws though. I missed all those ridiculously silly fillers we see in American baseball, especially at the minor league level. No children racing mascots around the bases, no grown man spinning around a bat thirty times and then falling flat on his face.
So, yes, baseball in Korea is a different experience than in the US. However, regardless of the country, baseball will always have stolen bases, fast-as-lightning double plays, and fans rooting for the home team.
PS: Want to know more about baseball culture in Korea? Check out CNN’s recent article! And Jared’s research provides us with a clip of an awesome first pitch at a Doosan Bear’s game (though, unfortunately for him, not the one we attended).