Written by Giovanni Pieve
Photos courtesy of Kia Tigers and Lorryn Smit
Every year, spring brings with it beautiful weather, cherry blossoms, and the wonderful game of baseball. Since the start of April, the 10 teams of the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) League have been competing every day for one of the five coveted playoff spots. After barely scraping into the postseason last year, our Gwangju Kia Tigers have dominated the first few months of the 2017 season. It’s an exciting time for the Tigers as both the team and their fans are hoping for another championship to add to their impressive collection. If you haven’t experienced a night at the ballpark yet, then now is truly the time to go.
Baseball is Korea’s most popular spectator sport, and Korea excels at both the international and domestic levels. Korea’s national team is ranked third in the world. The KBO League is often compared to leagues in the middle of the North American minor league system (AA ball usually. For soccer fans that’s about equivalent to League 1 in England.) In fact, except for a few different strategies here and there, the game here is largely the same as it is back in North America. This provides many of us expats with a great way to escape to something familiar in a world of unfamiliarity.
With that said, while the game is the same, the fan experience is a whole other “ball game,” and this is apparent from the moment you arrive at the ballpark. When you enter the stadium, you immediately notice a European, soccer-like atmosphere, where the fans of each team are split into different areas of the stadium. Kia’s fans are always on the third-base line while the away fans (albeit, a much smaller and sometimes barely existent group) sit on the first-base line. Each team’s supporters’ group is led by an MC who directs all of their chants and cheers. This is a far cry from the Major Leagues, as the vast distances between teams have always made it difficult for away fans to go to games. Because of this, the “supporters’ group” culture never had a chance to develop in the big leagues.
As the game begins, the fan sections can be heard singing and chanting various songs and cheers to support their teams. These chants go beyond the generic “Let’s go, team” chants that one would hear at a Major League game. In Korea, these chants are full-out songs that every die-hard fan has memorized. It doesn’t stop there either, because each individual position player (excluding pitchers) has his own song as well. While a Kia Tigers player is hitting, the fans will sing his customized song. The lyrics are usually shown on the electronic displays that line the façade of the upper deck. This makes it easy to follow and sing along, that is, if you can read Hangeul… just think of it as extra motivation to finally crack open that Korean textbook you bought during your first week here.
After singing the player’s theme song, fans will switch to a clapping chant that will be very familiar to North American baseball fans. At the end of the clapping, they will scream the players name followed by “anta” (hit) or “homerun,” depending on the type of hitter at the plate. Power hitters will get “homerun” cheers while contact hitters will get “anta” cheers. Just be sure to clap your hands and then point to the outfield when you say “anta” or “homerun”!
Now, after a few innings of cheering and chanting, you might work up quite an appetite. The stadium has everything you need, just not necessarily everything you’d expect. Instead of nachos, pretzels, and ballpark hotdogs, one will find squid chips, ddeokbokki (ricecake sticks in a hot sauce), and other Korean snacks. If Korean snacks aren’t your thing, there is always fried chicken and pizza available, and if that’s still not enough, remember, you can bring in outside food and drinks! Imagine doing that at a Major League game!
If you enjoy having a cold one while watching the game, then Korea has you covered with its cheap and refreshing beers. Canned beers are sold at the in-stadium convenience stores at prices similar to those found outside the stadium. If you prefer draft beer, then not to worry! There are draft beer stations all around the stadium that use special cups that fill from the bottom. The future of draft beer is right here in Gwangju, and its only 4,000 won per beer!
By now, you are probably thinking, “I need to see this for myself.” Lucky for you, attending a game is easy and affordable. The stadium is conveniently located just a short walk from Gwangju U-Square Bus Terminal. Tickets range in price, but generally, seats on the lower deck will cost about 10,000 to15,000 won, depending on how close to home plate you want to be. Upper-deck seats will cost about 8,000 to 9,000 won. Most of the time, it’s safe to just show up at the stadium the day of and purchase a ticket; however, some weekend and holiday games do sell out, so depending on the day, it might be better to purchase tickets beforehand.
The Tigers official online ticket seller is Ticketlink. Unfortunately, this is where it gets a little tricky because there is no English ticket site. If you have a basic grasp of Korean, then you might be able to navigate the website, but if you aren’t confident enough, then it might be best to have a Korean friend buy them for you. Alternatively, you can contact the wonderful people at Butler’s Korea. They will handle everything for you and send you the reservation number so you can claim your tickets at the stadium.
The baseball season will last until the end of September, followed by a five-team postseason leading up to the Korean Series. This leaves plenty of time to attend a few games. Don’t limit yourself to just Kia, either! There are nine other teams in different cities such as Seoul, Busan, and Daejeon. One of the teams in Seoul, the Nexen Heroes, even has an indoor stadium. There is no better place to be on a rainy day in Seoul! Each stadium has unique cheers and experiences, and they are all worth checking out. If you find yourself in another city, be sure to check the schedules online on the KBO League’s English website.
Korean baseball provides fans with both a high-quality game and a fun, lively atmosphere. Whether you grew up with the game or not, the baseball stadium has something for everyone. This summer, be sure to check out a game or two, and support our Gwangju Kia Tigers!