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

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

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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 .

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

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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

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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:

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“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

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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.