Outside the stadium I bought a liter of beer and a piece of dried fried squid and went through the gate with my outside food in hand. Inside the stadium cheerleaders danced to Kpop songs, and a man with a microphone rallied almost everyone in the crowd to bang together thundersticks.
This was no American baseball game. There were no middle aged men sitting quietly with a card and a pencil keeping score. No, most people were making noise the whole game, chanting and singing along to Western and Korean pop songs that had been modified into baseball songs. (The Doosan side sang “Go Doosan!” over the lyrics to “Fire” by 2NE1.)
Close to 7 million people attend KBO games each year. The games have an energetic and theatric atmosphere, almost like a Kpop show. The cheerleaders dance in short skirts during inning breaks, and almost all the fans, led by cheer DJs on a platform, eagerly join in the songs.
I attended the second game of the biggest rivalry in the league—the Doosan Bears vs the LG Twins. Both play in Seoul and both share the same stadium, Jamsil Stadium, which played host to the 1988 Olympic baseball games. Doosan (sponsored by a construction and power conglomerate) is coming off victory in the 2015 Korean Series championship and is currently leading the league with a 61-35-1 record. LG is nine games below .500, relegated to eighth place in the ten team league. Doosan won the first game of the series, 12-1, on August 2, the day before I went. But that doesn’t mean the rivalry isn’t intense.
While I was taking a break to visit the LG side, an LG fan told me, “This is the best game.”
“Like the Yankees versus Red Sox?” I asked, after I established that he followed the MLB as well.
Of course, it was different in that the two teams not only play in the same city but share the same stadium. After LG hit a home run to take the lead in the fourth inning, a bunch of confetti exploded on LG’s side, even though Doosan was the home team on the schedule. Neither was the rivalry like that of the Chicago White Sox and Cubs or the Yankees and Mets, which ultimately don’t matter much since the teams play in different leagues and don’t often meet. In the KBO every team plays in one league and plays every other team 16 times.
Doosan has about 47 games left in its 144 game schedule. If they maintain their 2.5 game lead on the NC Dinos (sponsored by an online games company), Doosan will qualify for a bye all the way to the KBO Korean Series. As it stands today, the KIA Tigers and the SK Wyverns (a chaebol with nearly 100 holdings) would compete in the wild card qualification match, and KIA, by virtue of its fourth place standing, would start the two game series with a one-game advantage. The winner would face the Nexen (a tire manufacturer) Heroes in the first official stage of the playoffs, and then the winner of Playoffs Stage One would face NC in Playoffs Stage Two to decide who will advance to the Korean Series. Americans may find this format complex, but it rewards teams for their regular season achievements more than traditional American playoff systems, and those rewards would be even more important in such a small league.
The game stretched on for a white. By the time three hours had passed it wasn’t even the ninth inning. (It ultimately lasted almost four and a half hours.) Doosan led up until the fourth inning, when LG crossed home 3 times to take a 1 run lead and then added another run in the fifth. Doosan put it back to 1 in the sixth.
Between innings, there was a beer drinking competition on the jumbotron between a female fan of each team. Doosan’s fan finished her glass before LG’s fan and won a six pack of Cass Beer. This fun little event might be considered “sexist,” in addition to “irresponsibly promoting binge drinking,” if it were done at an MLB game in the United States, I thought.
Irresponsible Life witnessed a female beer chugging competiton at an LG game.
A fellow guest at the hostel said he saw a “balloon-popping” contest between a guy and girl at the game he went to.
But our fan’s prowess at drinking couldn’t translate into success on the playing field. LG added 2 in the top of the eighth to extend their lead to 3, but Doosan could only muster 1 run. Our cheers of “Min Byung-hun Anta!” (which translates to “Get a hit, Min Byung-hun!”) only resulted in the Bears’ star right fielder going 1-for-5 and striking out in the eighth inning.
Even the fans were well behaved: some of them took out their garbage in shopping bags.
Ordinarily tickets can be purchased at the box office on the day of the game. Even the Doosan vs. LG game didn’t appear to be sold out, as there were seats open in the far side of the lower deck and all throughout the outfield. You can buy them in advance online at Interpark.com, but the website is in Korean and requires one to have a Korean phone number. I had mine purchased online by a hostel employee. There didn’t appear to be any staffing the ticket office at Jamsil Stadium when I visited on a non-gameday. Tickets for Doosan games cost 12,000 won (US$10.81) for the lower deck and 10,000 won (US$9) for the upper deck and more for seats closer to home plate.
Mitchell Blatt is a travel writer, editor, and columnist who has lived and worked in China for six years. He is an author of two guidebooks, Panda Guides Hong Kong and Panda Guides China. He has been published in National Interest.org, The Korea Times, The Shanghai Daily, Roads & Kingdoms, Vagabond Journey, City Weekend, Silkwinds and The World of Chinese, among other outlets. See examples of his published articles.