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Baseball in Korea: A Spectator's Sport

Posted on Mon, Aug 01, 2011 @ 02:02 PM

We’re more than halfway through the baseball season now and if you’re anything like me, you enjoy a good baseball game.  Even after you start teaching English in Korea, you shouldn’t be too concerned about being cut off from your favorite sport. Naturally, you won’t be able to attend Major League games anymore, but what Korean baseball lacks in players, it makes up for in enthusiasm.

Whether they’re following South Korea’s two Major League players or attending Korean Baseball Organization games, it’s no secret that Koreans love their baseball.  After having won the gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, why wouldn’t they? Batting cages are a common sight throughout Seoul and the people tend to know their stuff when it comes to America’s favorite pastime.

A Long History of the Game:

The sport has a long history in Korea. After being introduced in 1905 by an American missionary, it persisted throughout Japanese colonization. After the Korean War, baseball competition in Korea had begun to intensify. Finally, in the 1980s, Korea instituted a professional baseball league that mirrors what we see in Major League Baseball, but with a few key differences. First, the teams in Korea are named after their corporate sponsors (For example, my favorite team is also my cell phone carrier). Second, there is a limit to how many foreigners can play on teams, which ensures that the field consists almost entirely of Korean athletes. When playing on an international level, a very heavy Korea vs. Japan theme persists.

The Korean League

The small differences between leagues are eclipsed when you actually attend a game, though. In the stadium, it’s hard to focus on anything other than the enthusiastic cheering and the sheer passion that this nation has for the sport. Since all of the teams are so close geographically, throngs of fans show up to support both sides of the match during any given game. The stadium is separated into two halves and each side cheers on their respective team with the assistance of a cheering conductor and pep dancers. It will be difficult to sit down when it’s your team at bat because you would be the only one. The fans are guided through idiosyncratic cheers for each individual batter and they only take a rest when it’s the other side’s turn to support their batting roster. Each game is a 9-inning cacophony of cheering, singing, noisemakers, and the occasional booing.

My personal favorite team, the SK Wyverns, celebrating their 2010 championship.

The SK Wyverns celebrate their 2010 championship win

Not a Big Baseball Fan Back Home?

One common complaint about American baseball games is that fans gouge on concessions inside the stadium. In Korea, there are countless cheap food stands outside of each stadium during game time and no draconian rules forbidding outside food or drink. At convenience store prices, you and your wallet will have no trouble securing a beer and a hot dog before finding your seat. The sports shop is also fully stocked with well-priced merchandise to show your support for whichever teams might be playing that day.

Another issue with baseball in America is that it’s widely viewed as a pretty boring sport. When most people think of baseball, the long pauses and dry commentary instantly come to mind. Assuredly, with all of the excitement throughout a Korean ballgame, those pauses won’t be noticeable.

So, if you’ve never been a die-hard baseball fan, maybe you will find a newfound passion for the sport in the enthusiasm of Korea’s fans. If you already live and breathe baseball, don’t worry; you’re on your way to a country that loves the game. Working and living in Korea might just offer you a new perspective on baseball as a spectator’s sport.

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 Josh Donner is the current head instructor at a Chungdahm Learning branch just outside of Seoul. Josh grew up in Toronto and after graduating from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, the 23 year old decided to put his History degree to use by starting a career teaching English in Korea. Josh likes to spend his time learning Korean and soaking up all the culture and adventure South Korea has to offer. In fact, Josh has found his time in Korea so fulfilling, he is eager to share his experiences! Follow Josh’s adventures in Aclipe’s Teachers’ Blogs.

Tags: moving to Korea, teaching in Korea, English in Korea, Korea vs. Japan, sports in Korea

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