Thursday, April 4, 2013

Stray Observations from My First Korean Baseball Game

NC Dinos Stadium in Masan.
I went to my first baseball game in Korea yesterday: the NC Dinos (of Changwon) versus the Lotte Giants (of Busan). I went with teachers from my school in an organized outing that replaced our weekly soccer game. Here are some things I learned or noticed about Korean baseball:

1. The nine major league baseball teams in Korea are all owned and sponsored by big companies like Lotte, LG, Samsung, and Hanhwa. The Dinos are sponsored by NC, a video game company. So, my city's team is not the Changwon Dinos, but the NC Dinos. I find that odd but not surprising.
Everyone who sat in the section directly behind these girls (and the dino mascots!)... probably didn't see much of the game.
2. Korean baseball fans are very much into their sport, and their cheering is as important as the game itself. Often, the cheerleaders (yes, there are cheerleaders, both to dance and actually to lead cheers) get the crowd so pumped up that they ignore what's actually happening on the field.
All of the songs and cheers for the NC Dinos batters. The song for #09 김종호 was set to The Pussycat Dolls' "Don't Cha".
3. Lotte Giants fans are particularly known for their devotion to their team and the unique style of their cheers and songs. It was difficult to counter that with the cheers for the NC Dinos, since nobody was really familiar with them yet. NC Dinos are playing in the major league for the first time this year. In fact, the game I attended was their second game in the big leagues, period. (Yesterday they played their first game of three against the Giants and lost.) So, the fans were given free posters (that could be fashioned into bullhorns) and fliers that taught everyone the cheers and songs made up for the batters and the team, and the cheerleaders spent every spare minute teaching the crowd the chants and slogans and proper hand motions. It was all highly amusing.
Two of my fellow teachers with chicken and beer. No popcorn, cotton candy, garlic fries, or cracker jack here.
4. Lots of Koreans go to baseball games for the fried chicken and beer. My fellow teachers and I arrived at the game an hour before it started simply so that we could picnic on tons of junk food. I filled myself up with fried chicken, sausages, sushi, dried squid, and Pringles. It was pricey, but it was delicious. All of this instead of exercising with the other teachers? Sure, why not?
#39, Charlie Shirek. I did a double-take when I first saw him, before I knew that Korean baseball teams could have foreigners.
5. There are a handful of Americans on many Korean major league baseball teams. NC Dinos actually has three Americans, and their starting pitcher is one of them. His name is Charlie (찰리), and he is from North Dakota. I cheered for him as loud as I could, and got all of my fellow teachers to say, "Come on, Char-lay!" Hehe.
안타! 안타! 안타!
6. Some baseball-related vocabulary:
야구 (yagu): baseball. 야 actually means "field", not base.
쌔리다 (ssaelida): to hit (a ball). This is Gyeongsang dialect; in standard Korean it is 때리다.
외야, 내야 (weiya, naeya): outfield, infield.
안타치다 (antachida): to make a base hit. Fans chant "안타! 안타! 안타!" when they're at bat.
삼진 (samjin): strikeout. Also chanted over and over again, at a team's pitcher.
죽인다 (jukinda): Awesome! Literally, this means something along the lines of "It killed me!", but in slang, it has a positive connotation. I think this was part of a celebratory cheer for a run scored.

Lastly, this article from Changwonderful does a great job selling the NC Dinos and explaining the ins and outs of Korean baseball.

You know, I got more into the game than I expected to. The ninth inning was especially intense: 2-2, bottom of the inning and the Dinos are at bat with one out and a runner on third. The batter hits a pop fly into left field, it gets caught, no big deal if the runner on third makes it home... and he does! And the crowd goes nuts! And then... and then the umpire calls it out! What the heck? I didn't even see the ball get thrown back to home plate, but the call is clear. And wow... crushing disappointment. I felt it right alongside everyone else in the stadium. I left the game shortly thereafter, but I heard on the radio and from my fellow teachers later that the Dinos went on to lose their momentum and were defeated 3-2 in the tenth inning.

Haha, so I really enjoyed the game, even though I thought I was going more out of curiosity and a sense of duty and 정-building with my school. I've been to just a handful of baseball games in the US, and I don't think that Korean games are really much different! They might even be more fun, what with the crazy cheers and all. I just might go to another game this season and support my new team... NC Dinos!

P.S. I'll be out of town this weekend. Fulbright has a weekend conference on the Korean island of Jeju (제주도)! It's been favorably compared to Hawaii. Although the forecast calls for rain on Saturday, I'm going to make the most of it and am looking forward to a great time. Cheers!

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