We don’t have baseball in my country (or if we do, it’s not popular enough for me to have noticed), so I really know next to nothing about it. Uh… yeah… a bit like cricket, or something? I guessed vaguely when my colleague asked if I was familiar with the rules of the game. I’d gone to a game last summer and declared the sport to be “a snoozefest”, based on my experience. I have now revised that opinion.
Baseball (야구 – yagu) is extremely popular in Korea, and Daejeon has its own professional team of which Daejeonites are fiercely proud. The 한화 이글스 (Hanwha Eagles) don’t seem to have won very much in their lifetime, but the fans are enthusiastic and loyal all the same. I went to a game a few weeks ago with Yeon Kyeong, a lovely colleague who has been a supporter since her childhood, and I had so much fun that I went back with her the next week – this time having studied the rules and how to interpret all the letters and numbers on the scoreboard. I had such a good time that I didn’t even notice the 3+ hours going past, and came away excited about going to the next game. And the next… and the next. A bit of a turnaround from my first experience, last year!
So what exactly does someone who’s generally unenthusiastic about sports find enjoyable about baseball? Mainly, the atmosphere. Korean fans are like no others when it comes to supporting a team, as I first discovered during the World Cup. And at a baseball game, you’ve got the cheerleaders adding to the furore:
Not to mention the mascots:
And best of all, an actual chant/clap/cheer/song leader, who stands at the front and gives instructions in the manner of a conductor leading an orchestra:
The crowd’s eyes are on him as much as on the game, with everyone obeying and following his directions with remarkable precision, excellent timing, and gusto that makes it a joy to be a part of it. Once I had a grasp of the rules of the game, it became easier to understand and join in with the many, many chants and songs. Our energetic cheerleading man bounds around and holds up lyrics boards and leads us in what can only be described as line-dancing routines. Much to my amusement, one player’s song uses the tune of Karma Chameleon, which felt kind of surreal the first time I heard it. Boy George songs, in Korean, sung by baseball fans. Love it! 안타 안타 안타 안타이글스 이대수 (Anta-anta-anta-anta Eagle-suh Lee Dae Soo!)
At tonight’s game, the temperature was still very high and I was dancing around like I was at some sort of surreal 80s disco, waving my orange noisemaker sticks and yelling the appropriate shouts of encouragement/insults at the players, as sweat dripped from my nose in that attractive manner I’d almost forgotten from last summer. Honestly, I think I was having too much fun to even care. :) The game was a surprisingly overwhelming victory over a much higher ranking team, and there was much hugging of total strangers, leaping, and dancing long after it ended. Go, Eagles!