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

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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

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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

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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 .

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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.

 

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“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.