If you love baseball like I do then you have probably seen the movie Major League. And if you have seen it then you probably remember when ‘Wild Thing’ Charlie Sheen comes into the game at the end of the movie and the crowd goes absolutely crazy.
That scene is what it was like at a Korean Baseball game … for 9 innings … in June … between the 3rd and 5th place teams. It was one of the most incredible things that I have ever seen.
The Colonel encourages Koreans to try his original recipe.
Now I love going to baseball games . I mean loooooove it. My mother-in-law will tell anyone that will listen about going to a game with me and having me scream out a war whoop (as she calls it) as we entered the bleachers. As I said, I love going to games and when the family and I go on vacation to other cities, I like to check out the local stadium to see what is unique while also getting the oh-so familiar feel of the ball park. That said, I have never seen a ball game in another country before and while in Seoul, the opportunity finally presented itself thanks to the Korean Baseball Organization. The Doosan Bears were going to be hosting the Nexen Heroes at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul while I was in town. I didn’t even know there was a Korean baseball league until I saw that they had four stations airing Korea baseball every night which is pretty impressive when your realize there are only four games being played each night.
Selfie with the Doosan Bear while photobombing this unsuspecting Korean woman.
I checked the schedule, grabbed my subway map and headed out for a dose of the great American pastime. It took about 45 minutes to get out to the park and as soon as I exited the subway I felt a dose of the energy that was to come. There were hundreds of people selling things, buying things and eating things. You could buy jerseys, hats, thundersticks, food, drinks, toys and pretty much anything else that you wanted. I didn’t know what you were allowed to take into the park (turns out anything you want) so I didn’t pick up anything there but I did enjoy looking around as I made my way to get a ticket. I picked an upper seat (there is only one level so this is like the upper seats of the lower level at Kaufmann) for 8 bucks on the home side and headed to the official Doosan Bears Merchandise Shop. I selected a nice blue jersey which I liked better than the white even though it was the away colors. Properly adorned, I headed into the stadium and found my seat.
And the crowd goes wild … for a 2 out single in the 5th. Actually they just stayed wild.
The game had just started so I was surprised to find that the crowd was already really fired up. In fact, they were all yelling and chanting like crazy so I tried to figure out what had happened. It was the top of the first and apparently the pitcher had managed to get an 0-2 count on the 2nd batter. That was it. In the States, most of the fans wouldn’t even be at the game let alone engaged at that point. In this game the fans were going crazy for two strikes in the first inning. As the game went on, I saw that continuously. The fans cheered when anything good happened and were often chanting when nothing was happening or in between innings. It just never let up. The picture to the right shows the fans going crazy … why? A two-out single in the fifth. Would MLB fans applaud a two-out single … sure. Would they go crazy with a standing ovation? No way. I should clarify that the Korean fans did not stand up at this point. That would have required them to have been sitting at some point during the home half on an inning. Several times during the game, I literally said “Wow” out loud at amazement at the frenzy occurring in front of me.
I was thoroughly impressed at how the crowd was totally into the game but also at how coordinated they were. The entire crowd had memorized songs, chants and actions that they did repeatedly throughout the game. I really tried to get a good video of this but none of the videos came out very well. The best one that I was able to get is below but still doesn’t seem to capture the energy and coordination of the crowd. Check it out to get a taste. The Bears had just had a rally to get a comfortable lead in the game and the crowd just kept up the energy.
It took about 4 innings to get this guy to warm up to me.
Part of what makes this even more interesting is that Koreans seem really reserved in every other part of life where I interacted with them (or tried to interact). I frequently make eye-contact and give a head nod to people as I walk down the street. Koreans seemed very insulated from the people around them. People on the subway don’t seem to strike up conversations or even smile at people around them … even kids. But at the ballpark, all of the emotional control that the seem to have the rest of the day goes totally out the window. I was sitting next to a kid that was about 6 or so years old and he was really quiet next to me. I worked on him for about 4 innings and he was finally impressed when I showed him the picture of me with the Doosan Bear and he let me take this selfie with him. I showed his Mom and she thought it was funny. Oh and his Mom was totally into the game. She knew every song and yelled at every play and did all the arm waving/hand motions as well. She was not just taking the boys to a game she was a big time fan. In fact, I would say that more than half of the attendees at the game were women and boy did they cheer. One song had alternating parts for the men and women and all the single ladies absolutely dominated. That is what makes the cheering so surprising.
The older brother gave me a snack chip made with dried fish. Yum.
The young man that was sitting next to me swapped places with his older brother and we had a great time together. He warmed up to me immediately. I was teasing him at one point because he was watching the game on his phone … while the game was right in front of us. I pointed at his phone and out at the game and said “this game?” and he nodded. I then motioned at the field as if to say ‘it is right there!’ His mom thought that was hilarious and encouraged him to share his chips with me. I had one and they were fish flavored. Not my favorite to be honest but I washed it down with a beer so no big deal. A minute later he tried to shove another one in my face and I indicated that I was full. A minute later I pointed and said something (I don’t remember what) and he said, “Sorry, I don’t speak English.” I said, “Its okay. I don’t speak Korean.”
So how do the Bears keep everyone so stirred up? Well, near as I can tell, each team has a male yell leader and four female cheerleader/dancers that perform and cajole the crowd into singing, chanting and cheering. The yell leader is mostly active during play. He led them in a chant in Korean to the music for Surfin’ USA and another to the tune for Green Acres (I kid you not). He had them eating out of his hands. The cheerleaders were up some during the innings but mostly performed after each half inning. They did coordinated dances each time mostly to K-Pop (Korean Pop) songs where they replicated dance moves from the videos for each song (music videos are very popular in Korea and the dance moves are a big part of each song). I will share a video below with an example of the type of dancing that I saw although this video was not taken at the game I attended. Most of the dancing is probably less racy than this but definitely not all of it. I am not going to comment as to whether this is good for the game or for women or not but I can tell you that had this kind of cheering occurred at baseball games when I was a lad, I would never have learned how baseball works. I also would have saved my allowance for season tickets.
At one point in the game there was a big commotion and I saw the crowd looking at someone walking around the stadium towards us. There was a lot of picture taking but I couldn’t see who was approaching, but it was clearly some celebrity and celebrity is a big deal in Korea.
Korean Actress Clara Lee sat about 10 meters from me in the cheap seats!
The mob came closer and closer and then the celebrities in question came up the aisle past my seat and sat in nearly the last row. They sat down about 10 meters away. So who was it? It was a young man and woman and other than that I had absolutely no clue. No one around me seemed to speak English so I was pretty much in the dark. There were so many people taking pictures in the aisle that I was totally unable to even go get a beer. I tried to get a shot of the couple a number of times and finally managed to stick up my camera and get a shot. I showed it to our Korean friends and they informed me that the young woman is a Korean actress named Clara Lee. She has been in a few things including as a member of the cast of the Korean Saturday Night Live. I still don’t know who the dude is but then again who cares.
This beer cost 2000 Korean Won. That is about $2. Nice.
I have to say that going to the ball game was one of the coolest experiences of the trip for me and certainly a big highlight in Seoul. I think the main reason is that it is both so familiar and so different at the same time. Between the lines, the game was pretty much just like in the US. There may be a few differences, but by and large it was the same game and there were several American players on the field having no problems. The experience in the stands however was completely different. When I made it back to the hotel an hour after the game my ears were still ringing and that was after an hour long completely quiet subway trip. One more piece of good news, this beer at the game only cost me 2000 Korean Won … that is about 2 US dollars. That might have helped with the crowd and the cheering come to think of it.
I exchanged high fives with each of the boys, and their mom and her two friends as I left the game and we yelled ‘Go Doosan!’ so hopefully I left them with a somewhat positive impression of Americans. I have to say that given the chance, I would jump at the opportunity to go back to a Korean baseball game and if you get a chance to go, I highly recommend it.
Oh, and the Bears were victorious by a score of 8-3.