Everyone in Korea, including most non-American travelers kept talking about The World Cup. People in my hostel were staying up all hours to watch their home country’s match. I don’t like soccer, but I do like baseball and I had heard that Korea was very into baseball, just like Japan. Once I figured out where games were played I decided to go. There are at least 3 home teams in Seoul, and the Doosan Bears happened to be in town.
After a relaxed day of sightseeing and a trip to the post office I made my way on the subway out to the old Olympic Park. In addition to the large stadium, gymnasium and facilities there is a baseball stadium. The subways in Seoul are very clearly marked in English, including which stop is next so you can easily figure out which train to take. In fact, the subway here is much easier to navigate than Chicago’s El. I wish they would ask someone with a solid design background to redesign the signage, or at least add some!
After about 45 minutes on the subway I exited at the “sports complex” stop and headed up the “baseball stadium” exit—pretty simple. Along the stairs were old ladies selling what looked like California rolls and dried squid. I was surprised, assuming you were allowed to bring this food inside. With my 6,000 won ticket I headed inside and was even more surprised to see small KFC, Burger King and convenience stores along corridor. In fact, I saw at least three Burger Kings in the stadium. Not only does this stadium allow outside vendors, but the prices are the same as on the street! Food in Korea isn’t cheap, and fast food prices are comparable to the US, but back home food and merchandise in stadiums is always overpriced and controlled by the stadium.
Korean baseball teams are always sponsored (or perhaps owned, it wasn’t clear), by a company. The Bears are sponsored by Doosan, and most people cheer for “Doosan” not “Bears.” The stadium is apparently still owned by the city because two teams share it as their “home field.” Because of this the few Bears signs are temporary and hung sparingly around the stadium. Perhaps this plays into why the stadium has such a different attitude toward vendors.
I had no idea what my ticket said but when I emerged into the stadium I saw that it didn’t matter—the stadium was empty. There were a few hundred fans, mostly on the opposite side. I made my way over to the cheering section where a stage was built for three cheerleaders. A man lead everyone on with white gloves and a whistle. Sometimes he would start cheers and sometimes direct when to be quiet. Other times he spoke in a hushed wedding singer-type voice to the crowd. The two female cheerleaders in white two piece uniforms, gloves and legwarmers spent most of their time dancing rather poorly.
Fans were very excited, but appeared to watch the male cheerleader more than the game. In fact, in that section it was difficult to see some areas of the field. Each team had one Western player. The Bears had a white pitcher (whose name was still listed in Korean letters) and the opposing team had a really fat first baseman. The Bears did quite well, scoring their first 5 runs early on. In fact, the other team didn’t score until the last few innings.
Throughout the game women walked the aisles selling dried squid, crackers and cans of beer. A few men with keg backpacks walked the aisles pouring cups of Cass beer from a spout. Personally I found Cass beer equivalent to something you would get at a ball game or college bar. OB brand seems to be a bit better. Bad beer aside, I’m glad I went to the game and saw the similarities and differences. The game is played pretty similar as back home, but the fans are quite different and certainly less drunk than in the US.