Wednesday, May 14, 2008

(Small Market) Korean Baseball

My first Korea baseball game (which you can read about on my old myspace blog),
was the LG (Seoul) Twins vs, the Kia (Gwangju) Tigers. My buddy Don was cheering for LG full force, but I ultimately ended up rooting for Kia for a couple reasons. As a Royals/Cubs fan, I’m saddled with plenty of baseball ineptitude, and Don tried to sell me on LG because the are the “Cubs of the K-League,” ie, they never win it all. Kia, on the other hand, was the powerhouse of Korean baseball, and also murdered LG in that game. Given that I have enough baseball heartbreak in real life, I decided that my superficial alliance with a Korean team may as well lie with a winner. Add to the fact that LG Twins gear looked exactly like Minnesota Twins gear, thus I could never buy a hat or shirt of theirs, and the fact that Kia’s cheerleaders (yes, that’s right, Korean baseball has cheerleaders) were far hotter than LG’s, I through my lot in with Kia.

Yay! Korean Baseball Cheerleaders!

Fast forward a year, and of course, my casual fanship of Kia completely ruined the club. They ended up in last place in last year’s standings, and are now in last place by a mile only six weeks into the season. It seems all a team needs to be awful is my fanship and Jose Lima. Anyway, when I went to Gwangju, I had to attend a home game of my adopted shitty team. Little did I know, I was also to experience Korean small market baseball.

Though Gwangju would be the 9th or 10th largest city in the US with its 1 million plus people, it has basically no suburbs, thus no surrounding market. Also, Given that the greater Seoul metro area has 23 million of South Korea’s 48 million people, pretty much everywhere that’s not Seoul metro is small-market . I’d been to a few games at Seoul’s Jamsil (that’s pronounced jahm-shil) stadium, and laughed at the normal priced Burger Kings and convenience stores. Gwangju’s stadium, however, was the size of a spring training facility. There were no Burger Kings or stores, there were like three tiny concession stands in the whole park.

Nor were there any assigned seats. Open Seating means it's kosher to sit on the stairs of the better sections. The whole stadium, other than the expensive seats behind home plate (11 bucks. Fuck that!) was completely open, first come-first serve. Attending the game alone actually gave me a tremendous advantage in that regard, as it was easy to find a single great seat 10 minutes before the game started.

I was only a few rows above the cheerleaders, first base side, with the Kia fans.

The game had its hilarious points, as Korean basball games tend to have. At one point, a Kia player slid into home, when he obviously should have stopped at 3rd, yet he was called safe, despite being out by a mile. Kia also twice opted to bunt in a nobosy on - two out situation. Luckily, both bunts were fouls, but had they been fair, they would have been easy outs and cost Kia the game.

Speaking of cost Kia the game, we (and I use that term loosely) were up 4-0 in the top of the 8th. Kia’s pitcher, Yoon Sak Min, had pitched a beauty, but was clearly out of gas. I though we were lucky to get out of the 7th unscathed, but YSM thrrew some of his best shit on the last out. Clearly, he was struggling though, and it was time to go to the bullpen. Kia didn’t go to the bullpen. YSM came out to start the 8th, and threw nothing but balls and hits. He loaded the bases, then allowed two runs, with runners at the corners and a 4-2 lead with only 1 out. Throughout this entire time, the male “yell leader” kept inventing new Yoo Sak Min chants, and the crowd kept going along with it. I knew YSM was done, and I’m convinced that if this were an MLB game, the fans wouldn’t blindly following the yell leader, but rather screaming for the bullpen. If this were the MLB, Yoon Sak Min would have surely given up the winning run. This being the K -League, Lotte completely choked away their chance and hit into a double play.

This game also included two other hilarious situations. In one, during the 6th inning stretch or so, (no 7th only inning stretch, of course, but breaks in other innings, and the players literally come on the field and stretch)

the cheerleaders were sling-shotting baseballs into the crowd, which seems extremely dangerous to me.

The other: Lima Time! That’s right, Jose Lima has landed in the Korean League, and on my beloved Kia Tigers no less. And he’s not starting. Still, he seems like a cool cat. He came out of the dugout several times, during warmups and during the game, and seemed to acknowledge every foreigner there chanting “Lima Time!” He also came out and tossed baseballs to fans several times.

Good Game, good game, good game.... Kia wins!

Go back to Busan, you Lotte bastards!

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