Baseball games were always a traditional part of my childhood summers. At my brothers’ ball games, I would cartwheel on the hot, weedy dirt behind the bleachers or climb on a nearby playground, because sports are, well, boring. Even at my own games, I would practice handstands at my uneventful position in the outfield. (Later, I would play softball in junior high and was benched in the dugout where cartwheels are generally frowned upon and nearly impossible to do.) And then at professional games, I sat in the stadium seats, talking to my best friend and coloring or reading books, because, hey, sports can be mind-numbing.
Even though I’ve always been uninterested in sports, my childhood memories of baseball games are still happy ones. I wasn’t actually trying to follow the game or the score or the people running around on the field who all look the same at a distance, but I enjoyed being entertained by my friends, popcorn, and the atmosphere. And after a long hiatus from baseball-watching, in the past few weeks, I found myself at not one, but two, Samsung Lions games, cheering my face off for no particular reason.
Let me explain how Korean baseball lures you in:
- It’s impossible to be sad when you’re surrounded by the enthusiasm of Samsung Lions fans. Adults and small children alike shout all the cheers, while hitting blow-up spirit bats together. Let me tell you, those spirit bats are way more fun than they seem (queue photos of me and my 20-something friends hitting them together like excited children). My Korean friend, Ji, informed me that she didn’t, in fact, have all the cheers memorized; when you’re feeling lost, you can follow along with the lyrics on screens surrounding the field. However, it’s even better if you can’t read Korean because then you can just scream nonsense that you hope sounds like what the crowds are saying. Which brings us to…
- Ironic fandom is significantly more fun when you don’t speak the language. Maybe we just enjoyed the silliness of not really fitting in but feeling as though we belonged at the same time. Everyone around us was caring so loudly. We did our best to join in the cheers, many ripped off from popular songs, like “The Sound of Silence.” (Which is ironic because there is never silence at a Korean baseball game, especially when players are at bat. I think Korean baseball is one of the few times where Koreans are comfortable being loud.) Plus, I bet it’s easy to write cheers for players that each have the exact same number of syllables in their names. I cheered so much ironically for Park Hae Min that I really started to hope he would get a home run. (He didn’t, even though we repeatedly pointed at him and then pointed at the outfield, while shouting his name. I don’t know what was up with that.)
- The food is very…Korean…in the best of ways. Hot dogs? Yes (but on a skewer and add rice cakes). Popcorn? Yes (but add a sweet coating over all of it). Oh, and also lots of chicken. And spicy rice cakes. And more chicken.
- Cute kiss cams. Koreans are typically so shy about PDAing, so it’s kind of funny to watch the couples get really embarrassed, the women covering their faces with their hands. When the guys just go for it, though, everyone in the crowd loses it (queue tiny finger hearts).
This all probably sounds like I’m just describing baseball fan culture, which is probably true. It’s been a hot second since I’ve been to an American game. However, it seems to me that Korean baseball is a more amped-up version of American baseball. But, then again, maybe I’m just discovering fan psychology for the first time and how entertaining it can be.
So I wouldn’t say that I enjoy watching sports, per say. I will still make fun of you if you wear a football jersey on the reg or get upset when “your team” doesn’t score as many points as the other team. It’s safe to say, though, that I love the combination of spending time with friends, eating junk food, and supporting random Korean men with silly chants while they run around a field (and then crouch ashamedly in the dirt for an uncomfortably long time when they mess up).
It’s a fun atmosphere. Also, a news cameraman got a load of our extra-enthusiasm, so tune in to your local Korean news channel to see us hit each other with blow-up bats. #foreignersection #noregrets #noshame