Saturday is Opening Day! + Why KBO Baseball is Awesome.

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Opening Day aka Baseball START!

There’s really nothing quite like Opening Day for a baseball fan. No matter how terrible your team is, hope springs eternal at the start of the season. Even Hanhwa fans are probably excited!

For the SK Wyverns, its usually a different story. SK is never awful. They don’t always win in the end, but for a remarkable 5 straight years they have appeared in the Korean Series. SK  will be looking to reamin among the league’s elite this year with returning stars Choi Jeong and Jeong Keunwoo, along with new comers (and waygookins!) Jo-jo Reyes and Chris Seddon. SK will certainly miss the bat of former cleanup hitter Lee Ho-jun as he traitorously deserts them for the expansion NC Dinos, and billions of won.

If you’ve only been to American baseball games then going to the SK home opener could challenge your perceptions of what it is to watch baseball. In North America baseball fan culture has, unfortunately, been defined in recent years by a quiet, pastoral, and sometimes quite boring atmosphere for the casual fan. I was once told to stop speaking so much by a pair of old people at a Toronto Blue Jay game because they were trying to keep score and couldn’t concentrate with me talking.

Keeping score is an involved process of marking down every play that happens in the game on a score sheet using symbols, numbers, and letters.  It’s mostly for the elderly and people watching the game alone at the stadium while listening to a radio.

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Fun!

I get that baseball has a slower pace than a lot of other sports and it’s nice to slow down, visualize, anticipate and reflect on the high points of the game, but it’s not for everyone. If you are into lefty/righty matchups, fantasy teams and arguing the intricacies of managerial strategy then baseball will always be engaging for you. The thing is, if you don’t know or care what those things mean, then 3+ hours at a quiet ballpark can seem like a bit much.

Korean baseball is a completely different atmosphere. I still question the manager (why do always have to bunt!?!?! ****!), but there’s so much more going on and overall I find the fan experience really awesome even if the baseball isn’t Major League quality. Here’s my top 5 reasons for loving Korean baseball game more than MLB games.

5. Ticket prices and seating arrangements

bbq

Actually fun!

Tickets to the SK Wyverns cost 8,000 won for a general seat last year. That ticket allows you to sit almost anywhere in the stadium on a first come first serve basis. That’s a tremendous value relative to North American sports and even other KBO teams. If you want to spend a couple extra thousand you can have an assigned seat in the cheering section, but be warned you will need to stand up during every at bat and learn the songs and dances pretty quick. Also fantastic are the grassy picnic area and the BBQ Zone, where for 20, 000 won per person, you and 4-7 of your closest friends can get your own table complete with fire and grill and enjoy some Korean BBQ. Note: Go grocery shopping at the E-Mart at Bus Terminal Subway station, one stop before away from Munhak. Check here for more ticketing info. 

4. You can bring in your own food and drink

At home a hot dog costs me around 4 dollars and a beer costs 10 dollars for a tallboy, which is ridiculous. I wish I could say the beer was better, but in Toronto it’s mostly Budweiser, which is essentially Hite. In Korea you could conceivably go shopping (again E-mart!) and bring all those essential snacks and beverages into the stadium! No questions asked! — What are they going to do? speak English?

3. Thundersticks

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A quick primer

I know these ones annoy some people but I love them and they are basically a necessity for attending an SK game when seated on the lower level. Buy the real ones from the stadium souvenirs stores for 2,000 won, then head to the compressed air filling station on the lower level ( the same level as the Burger King). The name brand ones are worth it as they wont break as easy and you might get a few games out of them. The filling station usually has lines, but they move quick. Just be careful, because if you over fill them an eardrum crushing explosion erupts from within the aptly named thundersticks.

2. Cheerleaders

SK vs nexxen

SK is also better at baseball.

Baseball traditionalists would argue that baseball cheerleaders are a ridiculous distraction, which take away from the atmosphere of the game. They would argue that an intelligent, thoughtful fan is entertained enough by the nuance and beauty of the game. They are wrong. The SK cheerleaders are great at their jobs, they keep the fans into it,  and sometimes they throw prizes into the stands! I’LL DO ANYTHING FOR A T-SHIRT!!!

1.  Songs, Dances, Passion

passion

Incheon SK!!

Korean baseball fans are nothing if not passionate. The stadiums divide in two (one side for home fans, one side for away fans) creates 2 rival cheering sections taking turns in each half inning to out do one another while their teams battle on the field. Cheerleaders instruct and encourage the fans to be louder, more in sync, and overall more passionate than their counterparts across the stands. The cheers are usually thoughtful, related to the players attributes, and ripoffs of popular songs that most people know already! Learning the words or at least the dances is a great time and can keep anyone entertained. It’s really pretty amazing to see 20,000 people dance, sing, chant and thunderstick (verb) together.

This Saturday the place should be packed. The game starts at 2, but you should get there early (noonish) to get tickets and seats. Dress warm, bring some snacks, buy some thundersticks and enjoy the passionate ridiculousness that is Korean baseball .

March 21st: SK Preseason Stuff, Schedule, etc.

 

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This could be you this weekend!

SK has been playing exhibition games, I think they are free to go to and there are 2 more this weekend Saturday and Sunday at 1pm, both against the brand new NC Dinos. If you are looking for something outdoorsy to do on a chilly, yellow dusted, spring day…. then head down and check it out!

Fun Fact: Koreans say samgyeopsal (pork belly/ giant bacon) cures yellow dust!! It’s in the grease! It’s almost certainly bullshit.. but be sure to have some after the game.  I prefer a chain called Donaenu. 

I’ll get you ready with a bit of a season / opening day preview before .. uh.. opening day. 
If you want to wait for real baseball, and perhaps more importantly a full compliment of songs and cheerleaders, then wait until next weekend. Saturday March 30th at 2pm is the SK opener. They will be home at Munhak to face the LG Twins. There’s nothing like opening day, and it fills up fast so I would recommend getting there about 1.5-2 hours before the game to save your seats (I think the doors open around 11/11:30 if you want to try to get really good ones, or have a lot of people coming with you)

If you want to consult the rest of the schedule it can be found here. The grey ones are home games, the white ones are away. 

In other news SK beat Nexxen the other day 7-1. Choi Jeong led the way as usual with a his 2nd home run of the spring. After this season Choi becomes a free agent and could be looking at Japan or at least a relatively big payday within the KBO, so I’m sure he will be extra focused this year, his age 26 season.

Speaking of Choi Jeong, over at I R Fast, a statistically oriented baseball blog that sometimes features KBO stuff,  Clint Hulsey put out a ranking of the top hitters in the Korean league in terms of his KBO WAR stat. The stats methodology is interesting if you care about that sort of stuff, but for our purposes Choi Jeong is the 2nd best player in the KBO! It’s kind of interesting.. take a look! 

 

WBC Notes March 6th: Well… That’s that!

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“We lost, but we still exist” #storyoftheirliveWell… the WBC was a bit of a disappointment, eh? (PS Go Canada!!)

The Koreans managed to squeek out a 3-2 victory on Tuesday night thanks to an 8th inning offensive EXPLOSION. Well… they got 3 runs, but considering the way they hit in this tournament I think that qualifies. Despite the victory Korea failed to advance to the 2nd round of the tournament, in which they were runners up in 2009. This unfortunate situation arose when the Netherlands team, who beat Korea 5-0 in the first game, defeated Australia 4-1 earlier Tuesday afternoon. This all meant, due to complicated math formulas labelled TQB which involve run differentials among tied teams, Korea was eeeeeliminated.

Kang Jeong-ho was the “hero” if you can call it that, hitting a 2-run homer in the 8th off Hung-Chin Kuo, that guy who used to be good for the Dodgers but stopped pitching well due to anxiety issues…

Jeong Keun-woo was pretty disappointing. He walked a few times but kept getting thrown out on the base paths due to his foolish aggressiveness. Keun-woo’s SK teammate Choi Jeong didn’t even play! Lee Dae-ho had 2 hits, while sluggers Lee Seun Yeop and Kim Taegyun were generally disappointing.

With Korea disappointing tremendously, calls for change are inevitable, but outside of luring Choo Shin-soo and Ryu Hyun-jin back to the team, I don’t see what Korea could have done to field a better team. Strategically, there isn’t much a coach can do when nobody gets on base and all your best hitters play 1b/DH. This is 3 games in March, when pitchers and hitters are in pre-season form and Korea won 2 of them. I don’t doubt the Korean team prepared as well as they could, but in this kind of tournament anything can happen. C’est la vie.

In other WBC news, Japan and Cuba have punched their tickets to the 2nd round after they both beat Brazil and China. The two teams will play in the finale of their groups games today to decide who gets the top seed in the next round.

China ended up defeating Brazil, ensuring they will stay part of the tournament in 2017. The Chinese team were embarrassed 12-0 in 7 innings against Cuba, in a game which involved lots of mental mistakes by China and no mercy from the more savvy Cubans, and looked like they would be in tough against Brazil, failing to score in the first 7 frames. But in the 8th Twins triple-A player, and China’s best player Ray Chang put China ahead with a big 2-run single. Chang, who finished 3-4 with a double and 2 RBI was glowing after the game:

“I did it, and I trusted in myself. I just did what Ray Chang could do.” — Ray Chang

Adorable.

So with Korea’s WBC over it’s time to hope Japan doesn’t win (they won’t) and look ahead to the KBO season, which I will begin doing next week, after the sting of defeat wears off.

 

korea worried

“So… hit better… I guess? “

Well that Netherlands game was pretty awful! And with Taiwan beating Australia and the Dutch in the past few days it looks like Korea will be in tough to qualify for the next round. Before we get into that though let’s take a brief look at Korea’s loss to the Netherlands.

The Major Leaguers featured by the Dutch at the top of their lineup came to play Saturday night as Andrelton Simmons, Roger Bernadina, and Andruw Jones all had big games against Yoon Suk-min and the Korean bullpen. Andruw Jones also tried to run over Jeong Keun-woo to break up a double play, which was deemed interference, probably cost the Netherlands a run, and caused my girlfriend to get really angry.

On the other side the Korean hitters did their best not to bother anyone. They nearly silenced by a pitcher called Markwell, who they made look like Cy Young. I mean he threw strikes and worked quickly but cmonnnnn!

The failure capitalize on the few base runners they did have ensured the opening game loss. Whether it be Kang Min-ho’s strikeout, or Jeong Keun-woo hitting into a double play, the inability to string hits together against a group of strike throwing Dutch pitchers nobody’s ever heard of has put Korea in a tough spot when looking to qualify for the 2nd round.

If the Koreans are to qualify they will have to win against Australia and Taiwan. If the Dutch beat Australia as well this could lead to a 3-way tie atop the pool, with the tiebreaker being run differential. So with that all being said, the plan tonight is to crush the Australians. Taiwan beat the 4-1 and beat the Netherlands 8-3 for a run differential of +8. Korea, if my math is correct, stands at -5 after their 5-0 loss to the Dutch. So… beat Australia by 12 runs and we are in business!!

Australia boasts 8 players with Major League experience compared to Korea’s 2, but few of any significance. Chris Oxspring started against Taiwan and has KBO experience something, which the Korean team has far more of than than Aussies :).

The starting pitchers tonight are right hander Song Seung-jun for Korea up agaisnt righty Ryan Searle who is a minor leaguer at AA in the Chicago Cubs organization. This will lead to an interesting decision whether to keep Lee Seung Yeop on the bench as Lee Dae Ho and Kim Taegyun hit betters against righties.  Though if the rest of the team performs like they did on Saturday night, it’s not likely to matter.

Anyway, let’s mercilessly slaughter them tonight!! Run differential points!!…. Round robin baseball is such a bummer.

March 2nd: Some WBC Notes

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The Koreans best not take the Dutch lightly this evening.

Today is the opening of the World Baseball Classic, which I am making a conscious effort to care about this year. Chinese Taipei (aka Taiwan) opens this afternoon against the lowly Austrailians. I had a conversation at a bar about baseball with an Austrailian once, he was furious how the World Series was named even though all the teams in MLB were from North America. This tournament is for you strangely passionate Aussie guy!

Tonight at 8:30 Korean time, Korea takes on the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Dutch have a team which could surprise, as they did in 2009 making it to the 2nd round. Korea will likely send Yoon Suk-min to the mound to take on a Dutch team, which features former Major Leaguer Andruw Jones (who signed with a Japanese team this year) as well as current MLBer’s Roger Bernadina and defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons.

The Korean lineup will depend on the handedness of the pitcher sent out by the Dutch but will have Jeong Keun-woo of the SK wyverns leading off and according to Yonhap News:

” If a left-hander starts against South Korea, right-handed Kim Tae-kyun will likely be the DH with Lee Dae-ho playing first. Against a right-handed starter, left-handed Lee Seung-yeop will probably get the nod as the DH, with Lee Dae-ho staying at first base.”

This all means that Choi Jeong should see time at third base, which is awesome.

For a guide to players you should watch on team Korea check out this link!

One last thing, the WBC has some weird rules about how often a pitcher can pitch and mercy rules which I found on the CBC.ca website of all places, and are as follows:

2013 WBC rules

Besides standard baseball rules, fans need to be aware of the following:

  • All games are played with a designated hitter.
  • There is a mercy rule but it does not apply in the semifinal and final rounds. A game will be called if a team is leading by 10 or more runs when the opposition has hit in at least seven innings or if the leading team is ahead by 15 or more runs when the opposing team has batted in a minimum five innings.
  • Should a game reach the 13th inning, all teams will begin the inning with runners on first and second base.
  • Pitchers cannot exceed 65 pitches per game in Round 1, 80 pitches in Round 2 and 95 pitches in the championship round. A pitcher may still bat if he has reached his limit, but must exit the game after completing his plate appearance.

Other pitching rules

A pitcher cannot pitch until:

  • a minimum of four days have passed since he last pitched, if he threw 50 or more pitches when he last pitched;
  • a minimum of one day has passed since he last pitched, if he threw 30 or more pitches when he last pitched;
  • a minimum of one day has passed since any second consecutive day on which the pitcher pitched.

So mercy rules could end things early and pitchers will be limited to 65 pitches in the first round. This probably helps a team like Korea in the first round because of how deep their pitching roster is when compared to the other teams in group D.

WBC: Team Korea — Players to Watch

Team korea

Hwighting!

Many people probably don’t even know about this tournament, but this March baseball’s only true best-on-best international competition begins in the form of the World Baseball Classic (WBC). This will be the 3rd incarnation of the tournament, which is held every 3 years and has seen Japan emerge victorious in both in 2006 and 2009 . Korea has been very competitive finishing 2nd in 2006 an intense 10 inning final game and 3rd in 2009, after again losing to Japan. In fact, the Koreans have had the best win loss record in the tournament going 12-4 with all 4 losses coming to the Japanese, while team Japan has compiled a 12-5 record with 4 losses to the Koreans! Rivalry much?

So with this year’s tournament deciding the fate of Dokdo the Korea/Japan rivalry will be fiercer than ever! (just kidding, calm down) This post will give you a guide of some players to watch for team Korea, some players to hate on team Japan, useful scheduling information and anything else notable I come across.

Today we are talking some of the most important players in the KBO and consequently on Team Korea this year. There are other good players, but these guys are the big stars.

Lee Dae Ho #25 1B/3B/DH

Nickname: Big Boy


Lee Daeho

With Choo Shin-soo opting to attend spring training with the Cincinati Reds instead of play in the WBC, Lee Dae-ho is the leader of the Korean team this year. For those unfamiliar with Lee Dae-ho let’s start with the fact that he is enormous. Listed at 6′ 4″, 286 pounds Lee has been called “Big Boy” and is the kind of player that you would expect with that sort of build, a power hitting first baseman. Lee Dae-ho has put together an incredible career with approximately a million accolades in the KBO including multiple homerun titles (2), batting titles (3), and a ridiculous 2010 MVP Season in which he not only won the baseball triple crown for the 2nd time in his career but won the “septuple crown” leading the league in home runs, RBI, and batting average, as well as, runs scored, on-base and slugging percentages, and hits. That year he also broke the world professional baseball record for most consecutive games with a homerun, going on a 9 game tear and breaking a record  of 8 shared by Ken Griffey Jr. (1993)  Don Mattingly (1987) and Dale Long (1956).  After another dominant season in 2011 Lee decided it was time for a new challenge and headed to Japan, where in his first season as a member of the Orix Buffaloes he lead the league in RBI and won the homerun derby. So yea… he’s pretty good.

Off the field, Lee’s story makes his incredible accomplishments even more impressive. After his father died when he was 3, Lee’s mother lovingly remarried and gave him and his brother up to his grandmother, an old lady who sold vegetables and soybean paste at a market in Busan. Seeing his difficult family situation, his uncles introduced him to baseball as fun escape from a relatively dark childhood.

In elementary school he became friends with future Major League allstar Choo Shin-soo(!) and together they played baseball and were recruited into Korea’s national youth baseball team. They won the 2000 World Youth Championships with Lee serving as pitcher (he could throw in the 90’s!) and cleanup hitter, finishing with a .500 batting average and 3 home runs.

In 2000, just before his entry into the KBO, his grandmother died. This was obviously a huge blow and while trying to focus on baseball injuries to his shoulder and knees. Lee credits his girlfriend and future wife for getting him through these times and allowing him to develop into one of the great sluggers in Korean history.

Adversity, grandma, Choo and romance what a story!

http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/englishedition/eentertainment/435229.html

http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Dae-ho_Lee

Lee Seung Yeop #36 1B/DH

Nicknames: The Lion King, Mr. “Seung” (in Japan)

Lee SeungYeop

While Lee Dae-ho is probably the best Korean player in the tournament at this point in his career, the most decorated, and perhaps greatest, Korean league hitter of all time is Lee Seung Yeop.  After 7 years in the more advanced NPB in Japan, Lee Seung Yeop returned to the Samsung Lions last year, a team led from 1995-2003 earning the moniker “The Lion King”. Lee’s KBO resume is staggering and includes 5 MVP awards, 2 gold gloves, 3 Korean Series titles, 1 Korean series MVP. Lee also holds the Korean record for homeruns in a single season with 56 in 2003 and is a mere 6 homeruns from the record of 351 held by former Lion Yang Jun-hyuk. At 36 years old Lee proved he was still a top tier hitter in the KBO, smashing 21 homers and hitting .308.

Twice in the past Lee Seung Yeop has been reportedly close to joining Major League teams including an alleged negotiation with the LA Dodgers in 2007 where he demanded to have a guaranteed starting spot, which obviously didn’t work out. More on that negotiation and Lee’s notoriously attractive wife can be found here: http://www.rjkoehler.com/2006/04/05/lee-seung-yeop-and-sports-writing-at-its-finest/ and more directly here http://image.search.naver.com/search.naver?where=image&query=%uC774%uC1A1%uC815.

In addition to his accolade-filled career in the professional leagues of Asia, Lee was also instrumental in Korea’s greatest international baseball achievement, the 2008 baseball gold medal in Beijing. When I first got to Korea in 2009, replays of the Beijing baseball tournament were popular viewing on Korean sports stations. This continued into 2010, and 2011…. It’s just great to watch any time! And Lee Seung Yeop had a lot to do with the happy ending. A thumb injury rendered him ineffective in the round-robin portion of the tournament, but Lee stepped up in the medal round. First, he hit a go-ahead 2-run home run to oust Japan in the semi-final, and followed that up a 2-run bomb against Cuba in the final, as Korea squeaked out a 3-2 victory, and secured exemptions from the military for all. Nice-uh!

Next month Korea will look for the Lion King to bring pride to the nation once more… heh, see what I did there?

Kim Tae-kyun #52 1B/DH

Nickname: The Billwonaire (I just made it up)

Kim Taekyun

In 2011 Kim Taekyun announced he was returning from the Japanese league to come back and play in Korea for his original team the Hanhwa Eagles. While the average annual salary in the KBO in 2012 was about 94.4 million won ($86,885 USD) Kim’s deal to return to his homeland paid him 1.5 Billion won ($1.38 million USD). Unlike other stars who have returned to Korea, Kim came back in his prime at 30 years old in 2012. The stocky first baseman didn’t disappoint, hitting .364 with 16 homers and 81 walks compared to 69 strikeouts. Kim ran away with the batting title, as well as the On Base Percentage crown – if such a crown were to exist.

In terms of international experience Kim was a vital member of the 2009 Korean WBC team as he was named to the tournament all-star team at first base tying for the most homeruns (3), RBI (11) and runs (9). This year the Korean team’s lineup will once again rely heavily on the bat of the KBO’s biggest earner of all time.

Kim Hyunsoo #50 OF 

Nickname:  Machine Hyun-Soo  기계현수

Kim Hyunsoo

The hitting machine, known as Kim Hyun-soo, is a returning member of the 2009 WBC team when he was named to the tournament all-star team, hitting .393 with 7 walks. Kim followed up that success in the 2009 KBO regular season when he finished runner up to the Wyvern’s Kim Kwang-Hyun for the MVP award. In 2009 Hyun-Soo exploded offensively, batting .357 and smacking 23 home runs. He defended his hit title with 172, and was runner-up in RBI (104) and triples (6)  while placing third in batting average, runs (97), doubles (31), on-base percentage (.448) and slugging percentage (.589 ).  As well as being an excellent contact hitter with a decent amount of pop in his bat, Hyun-soo is an above average outfielder usually manning left field for the Doosan Bears.  He’s a well-rounded baseball player, who plays the game the right way!! (Tip: Awful , useless baseball clichés like that help lazy baseball writers fill space and end paragraphs)

With these 2 SK Wyverns, I will give a little WBC-specific info then link to their already completed player profiles. So totally check those out!

Choi Jeong #14,  3B

Nicknames: Spider-man, Strong Boy 

Throwing error!.. Just kidding, he's a gold glover.

Choi Jeong  was one of the best offensive players in the KBO last year finishing among the league leaders in home runs. But with Lee Dae-ho, Lee Seung-Yeop, and Kim Tae-Kyun all guys who are defensively limited and can only play 1b/3b/DH it will be Choi Jeong’s above average  defense that ensures him playing time at the WBC this year… Click here for SK Wyvern player profile of Korean baseball’s “Spider-man”.

Jeong Keun-woo #8 2B

Jeong Geun WOOO

Jeong Keun-woo is another national team veteran having played in WBCs, Olympic games, and other various tournaments around the world. But the last WBC left a particularily bitter taste in Keun-woo’s mouth as he struck out against current Japanese Major Leaguer Yu Darvish to end Korea’s tournament.

“I don’t have fond memories of 2009…This time I want to end it on a better note and plant our national flag on the mound when we clinch the championship.”

He means business and, according to the WBC brass, Jeong will hit lead-off for the team.

To learn about how awesome Jeong Keun-woo is click here !!!

Yoon Suk-Min #28

Starting Pitcher, Right Handed

Nickname: his name’s funny enough

Yoon

With SK’s Kim Kwang-Hyun shockingly sidelined with a shoulder injury (just kidding, he’s always hurt) and former Hanhwa star Ryu Hyun-Jin too focused on his new Hollywood life with the L.A. Dodgers, Yun Seok-Min becomes the ace of the Korean pitching staff at the WBC.

Yoon started as a reliever but over the years it’s become apparent that an arm like his is wasted in the bullpen. He throws 90-92 mph, but can reach back for 96 mph in a big situation. The 26 year old right hander also features  a change-up, an occasional curveball, and a hard-breaking, mid-80s slider which can be used like a cutter against lefties.

Yoon was the 2011 KBO MVP winning the coveted triple crown of pitching. The now 26 year old right hander led the league with 17 wins, a 2.45 ERA and 178 strikeouts in 172 innings for the Kia Tigers. He was the first Korean pitcher to accomplish the feat, while also leading the league in winning percentage, since 1991.  It should be noted that pitcher wins are a silly stat, which is very team reliant and shouldn’t be used as way to measure individuals… but whatever TRIPLE CROWN!

Yoon is going to be relied on for some of Korea’s toughest opponents and he has experience with that.  In the 2009 WBC, he started the semi-final game against the ridiculously star-studded Venezuela. Yoon contained the fearsome, socialist oil powered, Venezuelans to 2 runs over 6 innings as Korea rolled to a 10-2 victory.

“If I can pitch the way I am capable of pitching, I am confident I can beat anyone,” Yoon said, when asked about this year’s tournament “Anyone can beat anyone in baseball, so it’s important to stay in the present and focus on one game at a time without getting ahead of myself too much.”

Hopefully he can keep that focus and lead Korea to gold!…err.. I guess I’m getting ahead of myself too much.

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So these are the players I have picked as most essential to know for any international Korean baseball tournament. Watch a WBC game or 2 and see these guys in action as they attempt to win gold and exact revenge on the Japanese team who they’ve developed such an emotional rivalry with.

Don’t know the schedule?? Click Here!  

WBC: Groups, Schedules, Dates to save!

The World Baseball Classic -- It's a thing

The World Baseball Classic — It’s a thing

Many people probably don’t even know about this tournament, but this March baseball’s only true best-on-best international competition begins in the form of the World Baseball Classic (WBC). This will be the 3rd incarnation of the tournament, which is held every 3 years and has seen Japan emerge victorious in both in 2006 and 2009. Korea has been very competitive finishing 2nd in 2006 an intense 10 inning final game and 3rd in 2009, after again losing to Japan. In fact, the Koreans have had the best win loss record in the tournament going 12-4 with all 4 losses coming to the Japanese, while team Japan has compiled a 12-5 record with 4 losses to the Koreans! Rivalry much?

So with this year’s tournament deciding the fate of Dokdo the Korea/Japan rivalry will be fiercer than ever! (just kidding, calm down) These posts will provide you with useful scheduling information, a guide to some of Korea’s top players,  some notable Japanese foes, and anything else notable I come across.

Let’s start with the important grouping and scheduling information! Fun!

First, there are 16 teams in 4 pools that qualified for the tournament:

WBC pools

click to enlarge

Round 1:

In Round 1 each team will play the other 3 teams in it’s division. The top 2 records in each division will qualify for the 2nd round. Korea is in Pool B, which they should probably win. They are 4th in the IBAF rankings!

The Korean team will be in Pool B. All games in pool B will be played in Taiwan. Korea’s 1st round games are as follows. (Korean time)

Sat, Mar 2, 8:30 PM Korea @ Netherlands
Mon, Mar 4, 7:30 PM Korea @ Australia
Tue, Mar 5, 8:30 PM Chinese Taipei @ Korea

The Netherlands:

The Dutch have a couple established pro players in the likes of  Andruw Jones, and Roger Bernadina as well as some exciting young players like number 1 prospect in baseball Jurickson Profar, highly touted Xander Boegarts and defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons. That being said they aren’t as experienced or as deep as the Korean team and should be in tough to qualify for the next round.

Australia:

Ryan Rowland-Smith is their biggest name…. so this should probably be a win.

Chinese Tapei (Taiwan):

This is a young and cohesive unit that plays together more than most teams in a tournament like this. While it lacks players that I’m familiar with, the Taiwanese team is usually fundamentally strong and generally pesky. I do know Chein Ming Wang , this team has 2 players named that, and are ranked 5th in the IBAF rankings. Probably the only serious threat to Korea in the first round.

Round 2:

Round 2 is a little bit more complicated so stay with me here. The top 2 from each of the pools in round 1 will move on to round 2 and will be separated there into Pool 1 and Pool 2.  Pool 1 will consist of the winners and runners up from pools A and B. Pool 2 will be the winners and runners up from pools B and C.

Let’s look at Pool 1, which will be played in the Tokyo Dome and potentially feature Korea and Japan, in the diagram below.

WBC Round 2

click to enlarge

So we have 4 teams: Pool A winner (AW) and runner up (AR) and Pool B winner (BW) and runner up (BR).
Basically, you have to lose twice before the final to be eliminated. The winners of each pool (A and B) play the runners up of the other pool. The winners of those games move on to the 2nd part of the bracket, while the losers  play in an elimination game (L1 vs. L2 above).  The game between the 2 winners (W1 vs. W2 above) will move onto the final game of the group, while the loser will have to play the winner of L1 vs. L2  in another elimination game. The final 2 teams, while both moving on,  play a game to decide seeding in the medal round.

The games are all in local time, which is conveniently the same as Korean time. The exact time of Korea’s games obviously isn’t clear because it depends on the results of the games in rounds 1 and 2. I’ll go out on a limb and say the 4 teams here will be Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Cuba though so we’ll have a look at the latter 2.

Cuba:

castro

“Our baseball players must remain free from Major League imperialism.”

Oh Cuba! There are 18 Cubans currently in the Major Leagues and exactly 0 of them will be playing at the WBC, that’s because they are all traitorous defectors who have defied the revolution. Errr, politics aside, the Cuban team is always very athletic, very cocky and very good at baseball. Cuba has a passion for baseball. Their pipeline of Major League talent is inhibited only by their freedom hating regime  — see this blog is politically fair and balanced. Once, I was in Havana and my tour guide pointed out a group of 40 old men in a park with newspapers. He informed the tour group that the group of  señor citizens gathered everyday in that park to discuss baseball. Sounds like a good retirement spot. One player you should know is Jose Abreu who is allegedly a god of baseball. Click the link, it’s a good story about Abreu and Cuban baseball in general.  But seriously “453 batting average; .597 on-base percentage; .986 slugging percentage. Thirty-three homers and 93 runs batted in … in 212 at-bats.” this guy might be one of the better hitters on Earth and nobody knows who he is. The Cubans will be good.

Japan

He dropped it.

Ichiro…. He dropped it.

Due to a rich history of the Japanese being jerks to Korea,  some of the most emotional and entertaining games ever played at the WBC have been between the Koreans and the Japanese. This year should be no exception. A major difference this year is the Japanese Major League stars like Ichiro “Korea won’t beat us for 100 years” Suzuki, Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui, and  Daisuke “Dice-K” Matsuzaka won’t be attending  this years tournament. Regardless, the Japanese boast a strong team with the likes of Kenta Maeda, their 24 year old pitching ace, as well as infielders like former Major Leaguer Kaz Matsui and Hayato Sakamoto, star of the NPB. This version of team Japan is significantly weaker than the previous 2 championship squads at the WBC, but it’s important to remember that the Japanese pro leagues are a really high level of competition and this team should not be taken lightly…… Dokdo is Korea.

Round 3 The Medal Round: 

The Final round is pretty straight forward and looks like this:

WBC Final Bracket

click to enlarge

The winner of Pool 1 from Round 2 will play the runner up of Pool 2 and vice versa in the semi-finals and the winners will faceoff in the final. The times will be brutal for Korea because all final round games will be held at the beautiful AT&T Park in San Francisco, California.

Here they are so you dont have to think about it:

Semi Final:
Monday,  March 18th 10:00 am Korea time  W1 vs. R2
Tuesday,  March 19th 10:00 am Korea time  W2 vs R1

Final:
Wednesday, March 20th 9:00 am Korea time

So there you have it!

Broadcasts of the WBC in Korea will be done by JTBC, which according to Wikipedia is channel 15. The broadcasts will feature former MLB star Park Chan-ho and some other guys who will provide analysis in Korean and:

“JTBC also plans to introduce broadcasting technology that will allow Korean players to be shown more frequently than in previous international appearances aired by other local broadcasters.

‘They will be able to watch the plays by Korean players in more fun and varied ways,’ said a JTBC official. “

So that’s awesome?

Special thanks to Wikipedia and the official WBC site for all their help with this. Hope it’s useful.

Player Profile: Park Jeong-Kwon

Park Jeong-Kwon  #36

ParkJeongKwon

Position:  1st Baseman, Right Fielder,
Birth: July 21st, 1981
Height: 187cm
Weight: 93 kg
Nickname: Mr. October

Clutch

adj.
being able to perform under extreme pressure

For my first time using a squatter toilet, that was very efficient and clean. Especially considering my panicked desperation. That was clutch!

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In baseball circles, you often hear about the fabled “clutch hitter”. A player that is able to, time and time again, come through when his team needs it most. The person every fan wants to see step to the plate with the game on the line in the 9th inning.

Generally, the labeling of players as clutch is misguided.  Excellent players are often thought of as clutch because they succeed in big situations more frequently than other players, but this doesn’t make them clutch hitters, it just makes them good hitters.  Very rarely can it be shown that a players performance actually measurably increases when thrust into big situations.

Park Jeong-Kwon, in his career thus far, has proved to be one of those rare cases.  Known as the “Mr. October” (Sheewol-Shee ㅋㅋ) of Korean baseball, Park has made a living out of coming up big in the playoffs for the Wyverns. The playoffs are in October…get it?…. A .265 hitter through 7 KBO seasons, Park hits at a near .370 clip in the playoffs. To go with the impressive 100 point bump in batting average he was also named the MVP of the 2010 Korean Series. He probably would have won the award in 2009 as well, had SK not dropped the 7th game of the series to KIA despite Parks 2-run homer. While Choi Jeong and Jeong  Keun-Woo are probably superior hitters at this point in their careers, when things get serious, Park Jeong-Kwon has always been the man for SK.

Mr October

Mr. October



Interestingly, although left-handed himself, Park hit left-handed pitching better in 2012  than he did right-handed pitching (.266 to .244), although he had significantly more power against righties. He was especially effective against submarine type pitchers, hitting .318, in a ridiculously small sample size of 22 AB… but still… he owns submariners, he’s like a sea mine.

SeaMine

Submariners beware.

Park adds value in the field with his versatility. He is a good defender at first base and is capable of  playing decently in right field when called upon to do so.

The SK lineup will be counting Park this year to step up with the departure of cleanup hitter Lee HoiJun. For some this increased pressure to perform would be daunting, but I think Mr. October can handle it.

SK Wyverns Roster

A reasonably up to date roster of the SK Wyverns. Like the one on Wikipedia except: it’s updated to include only players who actually play, everyone has numbers, and all players link to their KBO/Baseball Reference stat pages… No big deal.

Pitchers
Starting rotation

Bullpen

Catchers

Infielders

Outfielders

Manager


Bench Coach 

Pitching Coach

Notably Foreign Coach

Top English Blog

Player Profile: Jeong Geunwoo

Jeong Geunwoo  #8

JeongGeunwoo

Position:  2nd Baseman
Birth: October 2nd, 1982
Height: 172 cm 
Weight: 75 kg
Nickname: Wyverns  Naelsandulee (best player?)

The heart and soul of the team, the engine that makes the lineup go, an adorable little guy. These are all things you could say about Jeong Geun Woo. Geunwoo truly is the catalyst for the SK lineup combining his solid approach at the plate, ability to spray line drives between outfielders, and his well-earned reputation as an elite base stealer.

Jeong was a highly ranked infield prospect after attending Korea University and was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2005 KBO draft. In his sophomore season he won the Gold Glove at 2nd base and stole 45 bases. Since then, he has consistently been among the league leaders in hits, batting average and stolen bases, while earning a 2nd gold glove in 2009.

On the international stage Geunwoo has performed admirably at many international tournaments. Most notably he was instrumental in Korea capturing gold in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he hit a home run off Canadian pitcher Mike Johnson to propel Korea past the Canadians 1-0 to make a 16 year old Brett Lawrie really sad :(. He was even more remarkable in the 2010 Asian games in Guangzhou hitting .563 as Korea again took the gold. As mentioned in the Kim Kwang hyun profile, winning a gold medal in either of these competitions earns Korean players an exemption from their 2 years of military service… Assa!!

Geunwoo vs Brett Lawrie

Brett Lawrie questions his view on fitness and manliness.

Last year in the playoffs Jeong Keunwoo put the team on his back  (like Greg Jennings) hitting over .500 in the semi final round and doing all he could in the Korea Series in a losing effort.

When Geunwoo gets on base the fans do a chant that basically just says “RUN RUN RUN RUN!!! RUN! RUN!!!” Over and over. This may seem like it’s sacrificing the element of surprise in a stolen base attempt, but honestly every pitcher in the league knows that SK spark plug is probably going to attempt to steal the base… Except when they bunt him over to 2nd base… which happens much too often.

A joy to watch at the plate, in the field and on the bases Jeong Geunwoo looks forward to another season atop the SK order. HWIGHTING!

hwighting

http://www.koreabaseball.com/Record/HitterDetail1.aspx?pcode=75808