erik lundegaard

Monday May 08, 2023

Twins Win! Twins Win! In Seoul

A burly Asian bear bats against the hairiest man in all of Korea.

“Your wife is a saint.”

That was my sister's reaction when she found out that our first full day in Seoul, South Korea, I took my wife to a KBO League baseball game at Jamsil Stadium. In my defense: Patricia was more than on board. After my initial suggestion, she kept pushing for it. And even after no one seemed able to help us get tickets online, and even though we didn't know enough about the subway system to navigate our way there, and even when the cab rider seemed totally confused about where he was taking us, and why, she was game.

So how does Korean baseball differ from American baseball? 

  • Teams aren't associated with cities or states—not even sure how you'd do that in a country this small—but with corporations. In the game we saw Sunday afternoon, the Doosan Bears hosted the LG Twins. I don't know Doosan or LG but they're big here. The corporations, I mean.
  • Fans sit in sections associated with rooting interests—like in high school football. That's because the stadium is actually the home stadium for both teams. I guess they just take turns as to who's the home team? When we bought tickets an hour before game time, the ticket-seller told us that the only seats available were in the left- or right-field bleachers. I said that was fine—either one. She looked confused, then asked which team we liked. Being from Minnesota, I went with the Twins, which is how we wound up in the left-field bleachers. Pretty much all the left side of the field was for the “visiting” fans.
  • Both teams have cheerleaders! The Bears' cheerleaders were dressed like variations of Goldilocks. Or maybe they were anime characters? Or K-Pop stars? The Twins cheerleaders were dressed like cheerleaders, though they made a costume change midway through to another variation of cheerleader: gold outfit to black outfit, I believe. They had more to cheer about, too, it turned out.
  • The fans know the cheers. They sing songs for their players and their team throughout the game. I mean, every inning. Several times an inning. In unison. With hand gestures. It's amazing
  • There doesn't seem to be much disparagement of the other side, just encouragement for your side. We were sitting with a couple from Belgium, and that's what the man, Marcelo, noticed immediately. Because it was so unlike European futbol. And he's right. It was all positivity. Nary a boo. This may sound odd coming from the “Yankee suck” guy, but I really, really loved it. It also felt very Korean. 
  • You're kind of stuck in your section. We went into the left field gate entrance and then were pretty much blocked from going anywhere else. Which meant there was only one place to buy refreshments, and there was no place to buy memorabilia. I wanted to get a Twins jersey, maybe their No. 51, but had no opportunity to do so. For teams literally owned by corporations, they don't do a great job at maximizing profit.

Otherwise, yes, it's pretty much the same game: three up, three down, nine innings, safe/out, replay challenges. The game went longer than current MLB games are going, so maybe they're not using the pitcher/hitter timers yet. It was also a blowout: 11-1, Twins. I did notice that the Twins' leadoff hitter, No. 51 (in honor of Ichiro? Is he a thing here?), left the game midway—I assume because it was a blowout—and was replaced by a No. 52, who was batting .000 with zeroes everywhere. I assumed a rookie. I did a lot of assuming that afternoon.

The refreshments are mostly the same, though the hot dog I ordered came bunless, with only ketchup as an option, and there were packaged seaweedy things I really should've tried. I got Patricia popcorn, which turned out to be kettle corn, which she liked better than American kettle corn because it was less sweet. Too late I saw a dude eating from an amazing contraption: fries and chicken nuggets in a tray that was the lid to his beer. Everything in one place.

They do the between-inning entertainments like we do. One was a dance-off between kids who couldn't dance. That seemed ... awkward. Another was simply called “Let's Dance!” and encouraged people to do so by putting the camera on them. This when the home-team Bears were down by 9 or 10 and there was little for Bears fans to dance about. Reminded me of '90s-era “Bad Dancing” at the Kingdome. (“And now back to Bad Baseball at the Kingdome.” — Mike Busick.)

There were a lot of foreigners in our area—not just us and the Belgian couple—almost as if it was planned? No idea. But it was fun sitting with the Belgian couple. Neither had seen a baseball game, so once again I tried to explain this insane sport from the ground up. They seemed to get most of it. Even better, the woman totally helped me with my understanding of the Korean language. I assumed it was a pictoral or ideogrammatic language, like Chinese, but Koreans actually use an alphabet for their words; they simply put them in clusters according to syllables. Which is why Duolingo kept foisting the Korean alphabet upon me when mostly I wanted to know how to say 'Hello' and 'Good morning'!“ It felt like they were teaching me the Korean version of bo-po-mo-fo (not really relevant), but they were actually teaching me the ABCs (totally relevant).

All in all, a fun afternoon on our first full day in Seoul. And we navigated the subway home. That was our 11-1 triumph.

Kids still shout for players to throw them the ball; the Korean version of the ”Foam Dome": chicken, fries, and beer all in one.

Posted at 05:04 PM on Monday May 08, 2023 in category Travels  
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