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 .

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.

 

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!