March 21, 2010

Baseball in Korea

I arrived in Korea in the midst of the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing. I spent my first night in a hotel in Seoul and the next day rode a bus to Gwangju. I was staring out the window (feeling as if I was in a M*A*S*H episode) when suddenly the satellite television displayed the beginning of a baseball game. I was pleasantly surprised and looked forward to some entertainment I could relate to. What I did not realize was how important the game was to Koreans.

It was the semifinal game against Japan. Much like the 1980 USA hockey game against the USSR this matchup meant more than a gold medal. This was a game with extreme national pride on the line. I was really impressed with how intelligently and zealously my fellow riders watched the game. It was a good game. The bus would occasionally go through a mountain tunnel and a groan would murmur through the bus as the signal would be lost. In the bottom of the eighth inning I arrived at the Gwangju terminal with the game tied 2-2. When I walked inside a truly thunderous roar greeted me. Korea had homered in the runs which secured a trip to the gold medal game; which they won against Cuba much to the delight of the locals. Welcome to Korea!! I think I will like it here! Soon after that I discovered that American games were televised nearly every morning. The MLB playoff games were repeated in the afternoon. So odd to see this frenzy. People here seemed to pay more attention to the game than we Americans do back home.

In spring 2009 I discovered the KIA Tigers. Their home field was conveniently located a five dollar taxi ride away and I was able to attend several games. The stadium was always electric. The fans hung on every pitch. They beat their "thunder sticks" with an extreme fervor. A constant chant or song filled the air. Instead of beer and hot dogs I was consuming soju and squid jerky (오징어). I had so much fun at the games. A neighborhood mechanic and I became friends and I frequently watched games with him at his garage. In August, it was time to go back to the states. When I was in the U.S. the games lacked energy from the fans. Even in September when the pennant race was in full force the crowds did not seem to have half of the passion of any given night in Gwangju.

I returned to Korea in October of 2009. I was happy to see that my KIA Tigers had made it to the equivalent of the world series here. On my first Saturday back Game 7 occurred. My beloved Tiger's were losing badly and it looked like all would be lost. However, baseball so often provides a fairytale: The bottom of the ninth... The scored tied....

Yesterday I saw the first training game this year. Today, the first day of spring, I have the fever again. I am an hour away from Gwangju and every Saturday I can I will be there with my Tiger's. I am stoked. Baseball, soju, o-jing-uh, and sunny days!!!


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