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 .

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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.

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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.