Saturday, June 30, 2012

Seoul

On Never Having Thor Around When You Need Him

Jamsil Baseball Stadium
Jamsil Baseball Stadium, 2012

Saturday, June 30, 2012
Lotte Giants vs. Doosan Bears
Jamsil Stadium
Korea Professional Baseball
Seoul, South Korea
5:00 PM

Outside of the Game:
After going to bed early the night previous, I was up bright and early to find that the weather reports had not changed at all in the interim, and it looked like tonight was going to be wash-out as well. This left a bit of a quandary. If I got in the game tonight at Jamsil, I could use Sunday as a make-up to go back to Incheon. But if the game didn't get played (and 100% chance of rain for the entire day didn't make that seem likely), I'd have to go to the Bears game Sunday night and see if they played a make-up game on Monday. Who would have thought there'd be this much rain at the start of the rainy season, am I right?

I went out to get some breakfast an access the weather situation. (It turned out to be very rainy.) After booking a DMZ tour for Sunday morning, I got all my rain gear together and decided to see if the Jongmyo Shrine was open today, as Saturday was a free walk-around day without tours.

It turns out the shrine was open, and it also answered the mystery of why there were the stone walkways in the middle of everything at the historical sites: when the dirt paths turn into muddy molasses, you walk on them easily (though not on the middle one, which is reserved for the spirits). Who would have thought? Despite the weather, the temple complex was a relaxing experience, with the only complication being handling the camera in extreme rain conditions. It is, however, important to expand your skill sets.

Jongmyo Shrine
Jongmyo Shrine

Despite my best poncho situation, I was still relatively soaked by the end of the experience, so I went back to the hotel to take a shower to warm up and change into my dwindling supply of clean, dry clothes. I had decided to go check out an antiques market, some tech marketplaces, and a fake Disneyland near Jamsil, in case the game was still going to be played if the weather magically let up somehow.

My first stop was an antiques marketplace. It was a series of buildings that had a near-infinite amount of tiny stores in them, all run by one or two people, either specializing in one type of product (books, pottery, etc), or a general range of old things for sale. The only factor that saved me from spending all of the money was that everyone I talked to only accepted cash, and a search for a nearby international cash machine proved to be a fruitless endeavor. It may not have been good for the vendors, but it saved me a lot of cash, and I managed to only spend most of the cash I had on me on various antiques.

My next stop was the Techno Mart, which was just a ten or so story store that sold everything you could want electronics-wise. The first few floors start off disappointingly with clothes and a food court, and from there on up, it is all geek, baby. Each floor was dedicated to a particular set of electronics, such as domestic personal electronics, cameras, PCs, game systems, etc. On the very top floor was a movie theater, just because. Walking around was a dizzying exercise in technical excess. Every possible variation and option was there. If you wanted that special PS2 controller that they only made in India for two years, you could buy one. Want a German after-market lens for a five year-old Canon camera? Ayup.

Doing my best not to buy anything, especially after my earlier spree, I eventually wandered out into the afternoon to get my subway to fake Disneyland when it became apparent that it was no longer raining. It took a minute or two to register in my brain. And then when it did, I realized I needed to get my butt to the stadium to see if they were going to play the game. Because if I got in the game that night, it should be clear sailing for my rain make-up the next night, thus wrapping up the baseball.

I had already been to Jamsil as the first stop on the trip to see the other home team for Jamsil, the SK Twins. This evening's contest would be to see the other team, the Doosan Bears. Since I had already been there before, I did not need as much lead-time before the game, as the obsessive-compulsive photography had already been completed.

Since I had exercised unusual foresight in selecting my rain activities, I was actually able to get to the game with plenty of time to spare, and enough time to do some baseball shopping before the start of the game. Getting a ticket was not nearly the scrum it had been the first time, and I got my seat on the first base side with a minimum amount of fuss, bother, and pantomime.

The Stadium and Fans:

Home to center, Jamsil Baseball Stadium
Home plate to center field, Jamsil Stadium

As mentioned, I had visited Jamsil as the first stop on the Korean baseball tour, so everything was at least familiar to me. The only thing I was really taking notice of was what they did to swap between home teams. The stadium had side-by-side team stores for both teams on the outside of the stadium, so nothing changed there. For the most part, the tickets were printed up with the Bears on them and not the Twins, and all the various hanging signage in the park was switched over to the Bears instead of the Twins (Bears players, Bears team name, etc).

Mascot
Happy fans
Given the rainy weather during the day, it wasn't too surprising that the stadium wasn't full. The visiting Lotte Giants still had a sizeable presence at the game, even though Busan is about as far as you can get from Seoul and still be in the country. However, there were a group of guys sitting behind me that took the proverbial cake.

There were four guys sitting in the row right above the stairs decked out in Bear's regalia that periodically got up and danced in unison while trying to look as nonplussed as possible. To be fair, if they didn't pull it off, they'd look like idiots, but damned if they didn't sell it. I actually started to enjoy them more than the official MC and the cheerleaders. I have to imagine they are well-known by the fan base. This doesn't seem like something they did just that night on the spur of the moment.

Awesome fans
Pure awesome

The official activities for the night included the Kiss Cam, and there was yet another beer-drinking contest. This time, it was who could finish the beer fastest through a straw. They had a home and visiting fan do this, but the big joke for the evening was that both of the contestants were Caucasian. (The Bears fan won, for the curious.) The home and away fans sadly both got together for some more wave activity, repeating the regular, slow, and fast wave I saw earlier in the trip.

Whitey contest
It is funny because they're honkies.

The home team victory was celebrated with a standard hero interview after the game. One of the honorees was the starting Caucasian pitcher, who had to come out with an interpreter. They broadcast his answers before the translation, so it was the only part of any of those interviews that I understood at all.

At the Game with Oogie:

Foul ball
Say hello to my little friend

Let's just cut to the chase here: I got a foul ball. After however many games in however many stadiums, I actually got a foul ball. Despite very close calls in Cincinnati and Lakewood, the simple souvenir had eluded me for all these years, so it only seems fair that once I do get one, it should be in the most improbable manner possible.

I got relatively good seats right down the first base line, solidly in the home cheering section. Perhaps because of the weather, all the seats around me weren't filled in at the start of the game. The foul ball netting in Jamsil, as in most Asian parks, runs pretty high along the baselines. There was a lefty at the plate, who clearly got around very early on some manner of breaking ball, because his hit managed to just clear the netting, and then backspin dove it down directly at my left leg, where it caromed rather painfully off my left calf before I could even blink.

It was all instinct at that point, as I managed to clamp by foot down on it as everyone within five rows started to make a dive for it. I calmly picked it up while everyone started starting at the white boy who apparently didn't realize what a big deal getting a foul ball was. I believe I was clinically in shock for a good five minutes.

Eventually, all of the seats around me were filled by late-coming fans. A teenage couple was eventually sitting to my left, and the boyfriend seemed very eager when a couple more pop flies came into our general direction. I did not have the vocabulary or the heart to tell him that if he had gotten here at the start of the game that the shot that went off my leg would have literally bounced off his chest.

That's why you show up on time, kid.

The Game:

First pitch, Giants vs. Bears
First pitch, Giants vs. Bears

There was a lot of scoring in what was a relatively quick game. And all that scoring was in tight bunches, and then fields of nothing. In fact, the pattern for the game was scoring only in even innings.

For example, the first inning had one hit in the bottom of the inning and nothing else for either side. The second inning was apparently a scoring frame. The Giants started it off with a single, before a fly-out to short. The next batter up hit that foul ball that I got. (Did I mention that I got a foul ball?) He then singled to right before a walk loaded the bases. The next batter had an infield single to drive in a run, but a bizarre mess-up on a suicide squeeze and a strikeout ended it 1-0 Giants.

Not to let that stand, the Bears managed to pull-off two, two-out walks in a row, followed by a hit-by-pitch to load up the bases. A long single to right cleared the bases before a strikeout ended it 3-1 Bears at the end of two. The Giants managed to get a leadoff single to third with a sacrifice bunt and a fielder's choice, but another fly-out ended the inning. The Bears went in order in their half, and the Giants followed them by going in order in the top of the fourth.

In the bottom of the inning, the Bears nearly had something. A single was sacrificed over to second and stole third, and then a walk made it first and third with one out. But the runner at third tried to score on a fly -out to right but got doubled up at home to end the inning. Both sides went in order in the fifth, and Giants only had a single in the top of the sixth (that was erased on a double play grounder). The Bears, however, had some business to do in the bottom of the sixth. A one-out walk was followed by three straight singles that brought home two more runs, making the score 5-1 at the end of six.

Both sides went in order in the seventh, and the Giants had a two-out double that went nowhere in the eighth that was the only runner for either side in that inning. And then, with their last at-bat in the top of the ninth, the Giants went in order, given the Bears a 5-1 win and a complete game by their pitcher, the only one I saw in Korea.

The Scorecard:

Giants vs. Bears, 06-30-12. Bears win, 5-1.Giants vs. Bears, 06-30-12. Bears win, 5-1.
Giants vs. Bears, 06/30/12. Bears win, 5-1.

There were a couple of odd ones in this game, as well. In the second inning, there was a run-of-the-mill 2-5-2-6-2 caught stealing when a suicide squeeze or hit-and-run did not go off as intended. There was another outfield assist in the fourth in a F9-2 double play. There were also some mild statistical anomalies in this one, with the Bears keeping a great run-hit ratio, getting three runs on one hit in the second and ending up with 5 runs on only six hits.

But most importantly, I had to come up with a notation for getting a foul ball. I put it in red in the notes section, and it was hit by the same player who got stuck in the insane rundown described above.

Did I mention that I got a foul ball?

The Accommodations:
I was at the Sutton Hotel again, and extraordinarily excited not having to move again. Going to the traditional guest house the next was going to be a short trip, and after a few days of not doing that every day, I wasn't dreading the experience as much as I has towards the middle of the trip.



2012 Korea

Friday, June 29, 2012

Incheon [Rain Out]

On Being Worse Than Boston


Rainbow umbrella
Rainbow

Friday, June 29, 2012
LG Twins vs. SK Wyverns
Munhak Stadium
Korea Professional Baseball
Incheon, South Korea
6:30 PM

Outside of the Game:
I very excitedly got up and did not drag myself and all my possessions to a new train station and hotel this morning. I luxuriated in bed for a while, and then puttered around happily in my bathrobe for even more time before heading down to the buffet in the restaurant basement. Thus fortified, I decided to head out for a morning of sightseeing.

My hotel was literally in the middle of the palace district, so I just decided to pick a direction and start viewing. Jongmyo Shrine was my first stop, but apparently you could only visit by guided tour on any day but Saturday, and there were few English tours available. I got a ticket for the next tour, but I didn't imagine I was going to make it back in time, and I planned to come back the next day when it was free-range sightseeing.

So I headed slightly north to Changdeokgung, which did not require tours to visit. The castle complex was quite crowded in the early afternoon, and judging by the chatter, visitors from all over were present. I wandered around for a while, when I came to the entrance to Changgyeonggung, yet another castle complex. It was adjacent to Changdeokgung, but you needed a separate ticket to get in. There was also a "secret garden" tour for the Changdeokgung, but that one was by guided tour only as well (with even fewer tour times in English), so I just went with Changdeokgung. These grounds were a little less extensive than the other castle's, and it turns out that the Japanese turned this place into a zoo during one of their occupations, which the Koreans reverted to its original designation after their "guests" left, for some reason. It is odd, because once I knew that piece of information, it was almost impossible to see the grounds as anything but a zoo. It's weird how knowledge clutters perception sometimes. I kept expecting to see lions in a cage, and not the queen's quarters.

Changdeokgung
Changsdeokgung

I did, indeed, blow my tour time for Jongmyo, because I spent most of the afternoon walking around Changdeokgung and Changyeonggung, so I resolved to come back the next day. I took the short walk back to the hotel to swap out into my game bag and get on my way.

The trip out to Incheon would be the longest I would have to make from Seoul. It was about an hour and a half out to the stadium, but it was only one subway transfer, so it wasn't that bad. I had to swap from the Seoul subway system to the Incheon subway system, but it was all in one station, and I didn't even have to go through any gates. It was a Friday, and the subways were pretty crowded on the ride out. It was interesting as the crowds started to wane the further I got away from downtown Seoul, but then they surged back up again on the Incheon line going towards the game. I got to the stadium in good time with nothing of note.

So in doing all these baseball trips over however many years now, I had not had any sort of weather problems, per se. In fact, in even looking back to my entire extensive baseball-watching career, I think I have only experienced one complete rainout, at a minor-league game in upstate New York. Since the trips have officially started, the closest there has been was a rain-shortened game in Boston at Fenway Park that I just attributed to Boston being Boston.

But someone finally took the title away from them. To be fair, it was getting late in June at this point, and July is known as the rainy season in Korea for a reason. They get torrential rain, sometimes for days on end, and it just makes the decision to not have any domed stadiums a little more puzzling. Regardless, I had been living a charmed life up until this point, and it all eventually came due that evening in Incheon.

After the rain delays earlier in the trip, I wasn't even that particularly concerned when it started raining. The crowd all donned their rain gear and everyone was setting up for the long haul. Eventually the rain got so severe that they suspended play and put out the tarp two batters into the second inning, but that just got the crowd to retreat to the more-expansive covered areas at this stadium and grab some food at the concession stands.

It wasn't even that long into the rain delay before all the TVs in the hallways cut to the head umpire, who held up his fingers in an "X" indicating that the game was called. At this point, a lot of people started breaking for the exits to try and beat the crowd back to the subway. Nothing else to do for the evening, I went back out to the field. A lot of people were still in the stands and apparently not accepting the called game at face value. As a consolation prize, a number of Nexen Heroes players came out to slide from third to home on the rain-covered tarp. This was greeted with much good-will by the crowd, and then, in the most rowdy behavior I'd seen in the beer-soaked crowds of Korea, someone ran out on the field to get a slide in himself. He was quickly pursued by a couple of security personnel and taken off the field. Perhaps emboldened by their compatriot, a few more people decided to take their chance on the field, and eventually the field got covered in security and police trying to track them all down.

Order was restored and the wet crowd sadly headed for the gates, and on the long subway ride back to the hotel, all I could consider was the failure.

The Stadium and Fans:


Home to center, Munhak Stadium
Home plate to center field, Munhak Stadium

Despite the unfortunate weather situation, Munhak Stadium had a lot going for it. It was one of the only stadiums that would be perfectly at home in Japan and probably could pass muster in the MLB, as well. I got the impression it was one of the newer stadiums, or at least one of the most recently renovated, as the "Heroes" franchise had moved around in the near past.

Say what you want about the place, it had personality, and a little bit of whimsy. Even the subway stop had branding for the stadium, something that curiously was absent for all the other stadiums in Korea but was near-ubiquitous in Japan. Munhak is part of a larger athletic complex, but it stands alone and has its own identity. Parent company SK must be on something of a capital "G" Green kick, because there is a huge bike rack outside encouraging fans to ride to the park, and the day I went there was a big Green fair outside the main entrance. In addition, in dead center field along the main walkway, there is a small room built in that talks about energy efficiencies and other Green topics.

The outside of the stadium seemed to be more familiar to me as the outside of a ballpark. There were concessions and ticket booths at regular intervals... and a movie theater of some sort. The main entrance to the stadium was a sweeping ramp up to the second level done in astroturf, and clamoring all over the ramp itself were little super-deformed (giant heads, tiny bodies -- an animation style popular in Asia) player cartoons. The kids area also extended out to the exterior, with a kid-sized train running from inside the park to out and back again. There was even a practice field for fans just behind the main entrance ramp to the park.

Particularly noteworthy to me was a truck delivering Glenfiddich to the stadium that I saw during my walk-around. You get bonus points for having single malts at your stadium, because that's just common sense. Sadly, I was not able to locate the liquid in question, and I strongly suspect it was only available in the VIP areas behind home plate.

The stadium had two honest-to-goodness decks of seats from first to third, and a double-deck of bleachers in the outfield. One area of seats out in left field was a picnic field (also unique to Korea), and in right there was a section of seats with tables built in, mirroring similar sections behind first and third. In keeping with the whole "Green" corporate theme, the batters eye area out in center field was done up in shrubbery and trees.

Unlike most other stadiums in Korea, the interior walkways weren't just some cramped way to get from point A to point B, but were lined with concessions, shops, and other attractions. The SK Wyverns had the first full-on merchandizing team store that I saw, with the team name dropped on everything from pencils to phone covers, with an extensive selection of t-shirts (which surprisingly most other teams did not have available).

There also was a huge PowerPuff Girls-themed kids area called "Wyverns Land Kid's Zone." There was the aforementioned kiddie train in addition to a simply humungous baseball-themed bouncy castle and other play areas. For the older folks, there were hand-casts of players, areas with a history of the franchise and its achievements, and plenty of places to sit and eat from any of the varied concessions stands in the stadium.

Mascots
Lost-looking mascots

Not quite done with the gimmicks yet, on the home stage on the first base side, there was an hydraulically raised boat built into the stage that the MC used to raise up to get the home crowd going at the start of the game. Even though the weather was looking awful, the stadium was pretty full nonetheless. As once again the home team was just from across town, there was a sizable LG Twins cheering section as well, along with their MC and cheer squad.

As with Korean baseball crowds, they came prepared for the weather, and were more than happy to sit out the rain, even when it got intense. They just retreated inside and got something to eat or drink, or took their kids to the play area to pass the time. They were suitably upset when the game was called.

At the Game with Oogie:


Rain
It will clear up any second...

One thing the place had going for it was that it was perhaps the first stadium in Korea that I went to that seemed to have a sufficient number of ticket windows ready to go. Although I was all prepared with my tried-and-true method of ordering tickets, I was immediately foiled by a college-aged woman at the counter who spoke fluent English, so getting the ticket was a non-issue, and for some reason, it made me feel a little sad.

I got a seat right by the home stage, and I feel it was not just because I was there early, but the foul weather that fulfilled its promise to ruin the evening had something to say about it. By game-time, my section was filled up, rain or no, with the usual mix of young people and families, drinking beer.

The Game:


First pitch, Twins vs. Wyverns
First pitch, Twins vs. Wyverns

Not much to it. The Wyverns, despite a walk, had a no-hitter through two, while they had a single and a double to their credit. Of course, since the game was scratched, none of this "officially" happened.

The Scorecard:
Twins vs. Wyverns, 06-29-12. Rain-out.Twins vs. Wyverns, 06-29-12. Rain-out.
Twins vs. Wyverns, 06/29/12. Rain-out.

Well, obviously not a lot to record here, except I had to record a game cancelled by rain for the first time ever on a scorecard. Curse you, Incheon. I filled it all out because I had nothing better to do on the long subway ride back to the hotel.

The Accommodations:
I was at the Hotel Sutton again, and deliriously happy at not having a train or plane to catch that morning.

Besides my dry cleaning waiting for me in my room when I got back from the game, dripping and disappointed, there wasn't a lot to mention. As I had some extra time because of the early end of the game, I took an extra special long soak in the tub and watched a bunch of television while I worked out what exactly I was going to do if the game the next day got rained out.


2012 Korea

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Seoul

On Revisiting the Capitol

Mokdong Baseball Stadium, 2012

Thursday, June 28, 2012
Doosan Bears vs. Nexen Heroes
Mokdong Baseball Stadium
Korea Professional Baseball
Seoul, South Korea
6:30 PM

Outside of the Game:
Sometimes, I really do hate myself. I mean, really. At what point did a 7 AM train back to Seoul seemed like a good idea? For some reason, I had picked all early trains for the trip, most likely to make sure I'm getting where I'm going, but these early mornings for the first week and a half were really starting to add up. The good news, such as it is, was that this would be my last early morning train before the flight home. I was planning to be in Seoul for the rest of the trip, and outside of switching hotels once to go to the traditional inn after I was done with the baseball games, there would be no more of this madness.

My 5:45 AM wake-up call was greeted warmly and with great charity, and I started the process again of dumping all my remaining crap into my bags to get to the train station across town. I got two steps out the front door of the hotel before a taxi asked me if I wanted a ride, and, as I dragged my cement-on-a-stick bag and contemplated all the stairs I was yet to encounter, the answer quickly became, yes--yes, I do want a ride.

Busan Station
Busan Station, early

I zoned out in the back of the cab for the majority of the trip, paying the nice man at the station and dragging myself into the morning again. By taking a cab, I had enough time to grab some breakfast. The Loteria upstairs was opened, and I figured, why not? I groggily ordered a chicken sandwich and sat down to eat. Something was vaguely bothering me, prompting some internal discussion.

"What kind of chicken sandwich was this?"
"I think it was the 'hot chicken sandwich,' now that you mention it."
"'Hot.' Hmm. That's probably not a great idea, is it? Hey, what's that smell?"
"Oh, that? I believe it is our immortal soul being burned away by the purging fires of Hell, why do ask?"
"No reason. Hey, where's the water?"

After my breakfast, I got onto the train to Seoul and finished up my scorecard from the night before and tried to catch up on this thing, while a salaryman (or the Korean counterpart thereof) next to me furiously worked on some hand-made analog spreadsheet.

Dumped back in Seoul Station, this time it was only a short subway ride to my new hotel, which was located right in the middle of things in downtown. As this was the sixth day straight that I was dragging all my stuff around in the morning, I very much appreciated the short trip about as much as I eagerly anticipated not having to do any trip the next day. I had to leave my bags at the hotel before check in, so I went out again to do some seeing of the sights.

I wandered south of the hotel towards a big park, but I only made it as far as the very northern end, where there was Namsangol Hanok Village, a recreated traditional Korean village. Because of the great loss of Korean history and heritage due to countless invasions and wars both ancient and recent, they government gathered up some remaining extant examples of traditional and historical Korean houses and moved them all to this created "village." In addition to the houses, the village held recreations and audience participation events of Korean crafts, folk art, and other cultural events. It was all pretty interesting, but the signs that warm you to watch your head are not just there for decoration. The Koreans in the past were even shorter than Koreans now, and even though they have helpfully padded the doorways, I nearly knocked myself out by standing up to quickly going through a door and had a nice welt to remind me not to be stupid for the next day or so.

Namasangol Hanok Village
Yi Sengeop's House

There was also a giant time capsule on the grounds of the village that I walked to when I had a singular experience. As I was taking the winding ramp down to the capsule, I ran into a Korean schoolboy, who immediately launched into his English practice with me. But then, when we said the goodbyes, he immediately dashed off, which I found odd. Thinking maybe shyness got the better of him, I continued to walk down, but around the next corner, I found the boy dragging along a friend of his back in my direction, and I had to go through English practice one more time with a new student. Finally satisfied, they ran back down to the time capsule. When I eventually got down there, the adult who was chaperoning them around gave me a little bow for my perseverance, as the two boys were still excitedly talking, presumably about meeting me. It is good to be a celebrity.

I went out of the village and started to walk down to the rest of the park, when I came across the Seoul Cartoon Museum. This is on the grounds of an animation school/production company, and as anyone with some knowledge of cartoons knows, much of the animation for American cartoons (including one of my favorites, The Venture Brothers) is done offshore in Korea, where the costs are much lower than America. The museum struck my fancy, so I went in, pleased to find it was free. It was a modest affair, with some exhibits on major cartoons from Seoul on one floor and a large library/viewing area on another. The walls were lined with some exhibits, but mostly it was row upon row of animated titles, with a central with pod seats so you could watch the shows. There were one or two twenty-somethings decked out watching anime when I was there, and one woman with her family who was asking me why I was here and if I liked cartoons. The limits of my Korean didn't allow an answer of, "Well, yeah, the animation for adults such as the US Cartoon Network's 'Adult Swim' are great favorites of mine," so I went with, "Yes, very much," which seemed to be satisfactory.

Seoul Cartoon Museum
Seoul Cartoon Museum

After spending some time, it was well after lunch, so on the way back to the hotel, I decided to bite the bullet and visit a McDonalds, making it about the twelfth country in which I've ordered a number 1 Big Mac Meal. As with most of the other countries, it was just like an American Big Mac, just competently executed with slightly different packaging. I also needed to grab more money at an international ATM and head back to the hotel.

McDonalds
#1 meal, please

Once I got checked in, I headed up to my room and immediately began getting my stuff out for tomorrow and re-packing before I realized that I didn't need to do that, as I would be staying in the same place for more than one day. I was filled with a profound sense of joy at that moment. I then went through my dirty clothes, hung up anything still wet, found several items in need of serious laundering, and brought them down to the front desk for laundry service on my way out to the game.

Thanks to the central location of the hotel, I only had to jump on one subway, and it was a straight shot to Mokdong. The subway station was relatively close to the stadium, so it wasn't too hard to get to there or back after the game. Although the game was a little longer than average, I still got back at a decent enough time to take a soak in the tub and watch some TV before bed, especially since I didn't have an early train to catch the next morning. Can you tell I was a bit excited about that?

The Stadium and Fans:

Home to center, Mokdong Baseball Stadium
Home plate top center field, Mokdong Baseball Stadium

Mokdong Baseball Stadium was odd in a lot of ways. As with many of the parks in Korea, it was part of a larger sports complex, with multiple stadiums in the same area. It wasn't quite as wedged in as a lot of parks (there was plenty of space to walk around it, for example), but the outfield was right up against a major roadway. Although there was a line of trees to shield the view, right behind the way was a highway. This led to a unique feature in all the pro baseball stadiums I've seen so far. There was no outfield seating at all: no bleachers, no nothing. There was just the two bullpens and the main scoreboard. The entire of the back of the stadium was covered with a high net wall (with some advertisements worked into it, of course), presumably to protect the cars on the highway. It still struck me that an above-average blast could still clear the netting, but I suspect that is part of the reason that the trees were there, as well.

The other major talking point of the stadium was the fact that the Seoul Gun Club had a shooting range there. As I was walking around the outside of the stadium, I saw a big crowd outside an entrance gate, but that entrance gate turned out to be the gun club. It sort of boggled my mind for a while there, as it had a right to do, frankly. It makes sense, I suppose, in that the stadium is a big concrete structure, so you might as well put a gun range in it, but I imagine most of you can imagine the issues if such an idea was transferred over to the States.

Seoul Gun Club
Well-protected

As with Sajik, Mokdong had a tapered design, going from three rows of seats behind home plate and the baselines to one row of seats in the outfield, before stopping where the bleachers would have been. It had an upper-deck walkway in addition to the main ring around the stadium, with its own concessions and the like. The main team store was not its own room, but a concession stand in the middle of the downstairs. As with most of the teams in Korea, they didn't "over-merchandise" like the Japanese, but just had a solid selection of hats, jerseys, balls, and the like.

Mascot
Heroic

The Nexen fans filled the place up on a Thursday night. Presumably because the opposition Bears were just from across town, the visiting section was filled up rather nicely as well. The between-inning festivities were the regular bits and bobs of dancing and skits, although they did have one unique contest. They had couples come up onto the stage at one point, and although I did not quite understand the rules that were explained, the contest quite clearly seemed to be to do squats while carrying your significant other. The one who did it the fastest won. I have to imagine that losing that would lead to all sorts of landmine-filled discussion in the post-event debrief between the couple.

At the Game with Oogie:

Scoring in Korea
First one is the hardest

The patented map-and-mime method nearly failed me on this day. There was a bit of confusion when I was pointing to the seats behind first base, but I eventually got a ticket. When I got inside, I found out why. Except for the areas right behind home plate and on the baselines, it was all open seating, with the Japanese-style "towel on the seat" reservation system. As one of the first ones in, I thought about grabbing the best seat I could, but because I had been shooting photographs through the safety netting for the entire trip so far, I decided to take a seat higher up in the seating bowl so I could get some clear shots during the game. I took a towel out of my bag for this purpose, snagged a seat up on the first base side, and then got on with my picture taking.

In the course of doing that, I realized that the Heroes do the non-traditional arrangement of having the visiting team on the first-base side and the home team on the third-base side. After I took my pictures, I went back and retrieved my towel and trudged on over to the top of the third-base seats and found a seat in the last row behind the stage. It let me look over the net while still giving me a great view of everything else.

I was eventually joined in my perch by a group of twenty-somethings in front of me and families to my left and right. One of the kids in the families had English practice with me, but that was about the end of the interactions. Everyone was very into the game, and one guy in front of me was even watching the TV broadcast of the game on his phone while he was watching it in real life in front of him. Those wacky kids.

The Game:

First pitch, Bears vs. Heroes
First pitch, Bears vs. Heroes

This one was back-and-forth in the most extreme of ways almost from the get-go. The Heroes Caucasian pitcher no-hit the visiting Bears through four and a third innings. It didn't even look like a contest, although the pitcher was backed by two spectacular plays behind him in the field. But the Heroes weren't doing much better, although just enough to have the lead. A one-out triple in the first came home on a suicide squeeze bunt to give the Heroes a lead, but then they only had one baserunner (a hit batsman, erased on a steal attempt) through four innings.

It is said that when no-hitters fall apart, they can fall apart hard and quickly, and that was certainly the case this night. After a meek ground-out to first to start the fourth, the Bears lined a clean single to left to break up the no-no. Four more singles followed, with an errant throw by the first baseman shuffled in, resulting in three runs coming across before a double-play on a fly out to left ended the inning with the Bears now up 3-1.

The Bears had two-out back-to-back singles in the top of the fifth, but a strikeout ended the threat. The Heroes decided to make a game of it again in the bottom of the inning with a one-out triple to right that came home on an error on the third baseman on the throw in. But two quick ground outs left the score 3-2 at the end of five. The Bears had some two-out magic in the sixth, with an infield single, a walk, and another single bringing home a run. The catcher had an error on the throw home, letting everyone advance, but a ground-out to short ended it. The Bears lead 4-2.

Everyone then went in order until the eighth inning, where the Bears lead-off with a walk that made it to third on a sacrifice bunt and a fielder's choice, but got stranded by two straight outs. The Heroes had a one-out single, a walk, and then another short single to load up the bases in their half, but two shallow pop-outs ended the inning with nothing across.

The Bears had a leadoff walk to start the ninth, but it was erased on a double-play and then a ground-out ended the inning. Although the Heroes were just a run behind, their listless play did not hold much hope for the home fans. Two quick outs to start the inning seemed to confirm that script. But the three singles in a row brought in a run and had it first and third with two outs, with the score now tied. And then the opposing pitcher balked in the tying run. The home fans went crazy, and I just sat there wondering what I was seeing. But the Bears could not close this script, either, and a strikeout ended the regulation nine at 4-4.

The Bears apparently didn't want to see it go on much longer, as the top of the tenth saw a one-out single followed by a walk and a single to load the bases, and then another walk to bring in the go-ahead run. This not surprisingly lead to a pitching change, and the new hurler managed to get the next batter to pop out to first. But then he gave up another short single to bring in another run, before inducing a ground-out to end the half-inning at 6-4 Bears. After the ninth, I wasn't sure what to expect from the Heroes, but they decided to go out like chumps, going 1-2-3 in the bottom of the tenth and sending the Bears home 6-4 winners.

The Scorecard:

Bears vs. Heroes, 06-28-12. Bears win, 6-4.Bears vs. Heroes, 06-28-12. Bears win, 6-4.
Bears vs. Heroes, 06/28/12. Bears win, 6-4.

Outside of the no-hitter excitement, there were a number of noteworthy scoring elements in this game. There was the unusual (in America at least) suicide squeeze to bring in the first run of the game. Due to the insane defensive plays to back up the ongoing no hitter, I had to knock out two gems (!) in the second and third on my scorecard. There was also an outfield assist in the top of the fourth as part of a double play (F-7-5-2). Not to mention, of course, the balking in a run in the bottom of the ninth, which was a first for me.

There were also some odd patterns throughout the course of the game. The top of the ninth went "DP 6-6-3" and "6-3." Even weirder, the bottom of the third through the sixth featured two duplicate outs each inning: 6-3 6-3 in the third, 4-3 4-3 in the fourth, 6-3 6-3 in the fifth, and 4-3 4-3 in the sixth. There were an unusual amount of assists from third base on both teams (3 and 4, respectively).

The Accommodations:

Hotel Sutton
Hotel Sutton

For the first part of my last stretch in Seoul, I was staying at the Hotel Sutton, a mid- to upper-range business hotel located smack dab in the middle of the city by one of the major subway junctions. The hotel enforced their check-in time, but let me leave my bag, so I didn't get into my room until the mid-afternoon right before I was heading out to the game.

While perhaps a little on the small side by American standards, it was more than adequate for my needs. The bathroom had a combined shower and tub, and one of the toilets from the future that Asia seems to always have. There was a small desk and two chair underneath the TV across from the bed, which took up all of the opposite wall. In the little alcove between the bathroom and the bedroom, there was a refrigerator and a bunch of items you could buy. They even had some Scotch available, but due to a tragic twist of fate, it was Johnny Walker. So close, Korea, but yet so far.



2012 Korea

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Busan

On Conspicuous Consumption


Sajik Baseball Stadium
Sajik Baseball Stadium, 2012

Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Hanwha Eagles vs. Lotte Giants
Sajik Baseball Stadium
Korea Professional Baseball
Busan, South Korea
6:30 PM

Outside of the Game:
I had lost my senses and booked a train later than 8 AM, so I had some time to myself in the morning, which I used to leisurely wash and pack up, and then head off to Dondaegu station, where I had a leisurely breakfast before the leisurely train. It was just a quick ride to Busan, and the track I arrived on even dropped me off right next to the tourist office, where I confirmed my directions and got my obligatory map of the city.

Breakfast
Most important meal of the day

Busan's the second-largest city in Korea, so it's subway system was more extensive than the one- and two-line operations in most of the other smaller cities. Getting to my hotel by the convention center involved making a transfer, but I traversed half the city in less than a half hour. The business and convention area of my hotel was built up, but it was nearly impossible to miss the hotel, which had its name written in huge letters on the imposing structure, and it was just slightly smaller than the Trump building behind it. I had to leave my bag for the official check-in, so I headed out for some sight-seeing.

Busan Station
Symbolism

The weather wasn't great. It was constantly misting and windy, and after nearly dying of heat stroke for the majority of the trip, I began to wonder if I was going to slowly freeze to death here. Not having any agenda as per usual, I was just wandering around, when I ran across Shinsegae Centumcity, which proudly proclaims itself to be the largest department store in the world, thus establishing another running theme for these trips. Now, it said the largest department store and not mall, and the Mall of America had been overtaken by that place in Canada by the time I got there, but they had an official Guinness World Records seal and everything, so they can't be lying.

Proof
Proof

I took a stroll through the place, eventually having lunch at the food court in one of the countless sub-floors. It actually took a bit of orienteering to get me outside of the building again, into the increasing damp of the day, with the misting officially being upgraded to a drizzle. Since I was in Busan, I figured I might as well head down to the coast, and a short subway ride dumped me in the general location I wanted.

I walked towards the coast, and decided to stop at Dongbaek Park. There's a huge hotel right at the entrance, which at least made it easy to find. Despite the inclement weather, the park was filled with older Koreans, presumably having their constitutionals. The park had a large hill in the center, which led to a pavilion and statue of the philosopher Choi Chi Won, and all around the edges of the park were various walkways and boardwalks out by the ocean, emphasizing that there was no further south to be had here. The APEC House was at the end of the walkways, which was important for some reason I never discovered. Because it eventually got to be time to go to the game, and I headed back to the hotel to check in and grab a hot shower to get the damp out of me and hang up all the drippy clothes.

Dongbaek Park
The edge of things

The subway ride to the stadium was uncontroversial, if damp. Finding the ballpark in the huge complex of stadiums it shared was a bit of poking around, but nothing serious. Getting back to the subway after the game was a bit of a muck-up, as signage was a little scarce and retracing complicated paths in the dark is not as easy as it sounds. Since the stadium was equidistant to two subway stations and there were a number of parking lots scattered all around, it was not just as easy as following the crowd to the obvious destination. I boldly set out in what I thought was the correct direction and ended up following a group of fans to a car park, until a kind soul in one of the groups set me back in the correct direction. Outside of being packed in, once I got to the subway, it was smooth sailing back to the hotel.

The Stadium and Fans:

Center to home, Sajik Baseball Stadium
Center field to home plate, Sajik Baseball Stadium

After what had been a string of little bandbox parks in the smaller cities in Korea, the second largest city in the country also delivered a larger type of stadium. Sajik Baseball Stadium would have fit in perfectly in Japan, and might not even seem too out of place in the MLB. After a run of mostly single-tiered parks wedged tightly into their surroundings, a big concrete stadium with some room to breathe was quite different.

Although there wasn't much in the way of "official" concessions outside the stadium (the standard array of food carts huddled on the periphery, along with actual restaurants on the streets surrounding the stadium), it did feature an actual stadium facade, and in the front of the stadium was a full-sized stadium store, the team offices, and, unique to my experiences in Korea, a team museum.

The Giants Museum was about what I'd come to expect from similar items in the US and Japan. There's the history of the team, the hall of fame, and areas talking about great achievements by teams or players in the history of the franchise. There was also a rather extensive section on the development of the mascot and team fonts and typography, which was certainly a little different, as well as interactive exhibits that let visitors pitch and bat and sit in the stands, which one expects they'd be doing anyway.

Giants Museum
I always wanted to be an announcer...

While I was in the museum, one of the staff quickly came up to me and asked if I was American. When you travel a lot, you learn to treat that question with a bit of skepticism, because you never know what was going to come next. However, he was just really enthusiastic about seeing an American come visit the museum, and we ended up talking about baseball for a while. He gave me some extra brochures and sent me on my way.

As I mentioned, Sajik Stadium was one of the bigger parks I had been to in the course of the trip this far. It had an interesting "flowing" layout, with four levels of seats above the field behind home plate, tapering out to three rows of seats above the field along the baselines, and then only two rows of seats above the field in the bleachers. Along the baselines, there was also a row of seats on field level, and, as per Japanese fashion, a row of seats on the field itself in foul territory. There were the home and away stages by the dugouts, but they were located above the row of seats on field level on both sides. You could walk all around the park, with the exception of the area behind home plate, which had tickets-only admittance for all the levels of seating.

Mascots
Awards

There was one interior walkway circling the entire building, with various concession stands build into the passage. There were more familiar Western fare like KFC, as well as Korean standards such as Loteria. (I had a "Bulgogi Burger" for dinner.) There was even a full-scale kids area located along one of the baselines.

Lotte fans are well-known for being passionate, and wherever they play in Korea, there always seems to be a large contingent of Giants fans in attendance. In their home park, they were out in force, mostly filling up the place, although there were a small troop of Eagles fans in attendance as well. The Giants fans dominated the proceedings, however, and while it was heartening to see such support for a team, it did lead to some unmentionable horrors, such as the wave being instigated by the Giants MC that swept around the oddly-shaped stadium. To be fair, they did some interesting things with it, at least. They started with a regular wave, and then they did a super slow-motion wave, and then a super-fast wave. Everyone was pretty lit up anyway, so the fact that they were able to coordinate something that complicated is worthy of some appreciation if only for that.

Bag head
Yeah, about this...

Another late-inning tradition that I did not quite understand was the bags on the heads. Towards the end of the game, the fans all blew up Giants' plastic bags and then tied them to their head, anchored on their ears. They left them there was most of the remainder of the game, cheering along like it was all perfectly normal. Who am I to judge, really?

At the Game with Oogie:

Bulgogi Burger
Bulgogi Burger

The wait on line to get tickets was extremely long for some reason. They didn't open the ticket windows until about an hour and a half before game time, and by then I was in the middle of line extending back out of sight, and I was at just one of the ticket windows for the facility. To their credit, once the windows did open, the line cleared out within minutes, so points for efficiency.

Being a single, I had managed to score a seat down in the home cheering section on the first base line, right in back of the on-field seating. On three sides, I had groups of twenty-somethings out for a good time, and to my left I had two older businessmen out for a good time.

As was becoming common, one of the men started watching me doing the scorecard, and then the curiosity got the better of him as he tried to ask what I was doing. Between some rudimentary Korean, gestures, and examples, I managed to convey the purpose of the thing. He nodded and offered me a beer. If that wasn't Korea in a nutshell, I don't know what is.

The Game:

First pitch, Eagles vs. Giants
First pitch, Eagles vs. Giants

This one wasn't even as close as it seemed, especially given how it started. The visiting Eagles walked the bases loaded with one out in the top of the first, and then managed to get nothing of it, going down meekly back-to-back to end the inning. The Giants were not so accommodating. A leadoff double was sacrificed to third and then driven in with a single. A walk, an out, and two singles followed, driving in two more before a pop-out to second ended the inning, 3-0 Giants.

The Eagles only managed a walk in their half of the second, and the Giants only had a single in their part, erased on a steal attempt. The Eagles did get on the board in the third. A one-out single and hit-by-pitch got driven in with a two-out double, making the score 3-2 Giants, marking as close as this one would get. Two singles and a sacrifice fly got one back for the Giants in the bottom of the third, leaving it 4-2 Giants.

A leadoff double and a walk went for naught for the Eagles in the fourth, but the Giants were not done. A leadoff single was sacrificed to second and then went to third on a long fly out to center, but a liner home run out to right made the base movement irrelevant, notching the score at 6-2 Giants before the end of the inning.

Things settled down for the fifth, with the Eagles scattering a single and the Giants getting nothing out of a one-out double. The Eagles then did nil with back-to-back walks with one out in the top of the sixth, but the Giants tacked on another one in their half with a one-out hit batmsman stealing second and being driven in on a two-out double, leaving it 7-2 Giants.

The Eagles only managed an infield hit in the seventh, while the Giants kept the train rolling. A leadoff single and walk were both sacrificed over to second and third with one out and were promptly driven in by a single to right, making it a laugher at 9-2 Giants. A single hit sacrificed over to second were all the Eagles had in the eighth, and the Giants went in order.

Another leadoff single made it to second on a fielder's choice, but the Eagles could do nothing else in the ninth, leaving it 9-2 Giants as the final, in a somewhat lengthy three-and-a-half hour game.

The Scorecard:

Eagles vs. Giants, 06/27/12. Giants win, 9-2.

Another fairly straightforward game, and outside of a lot of assists from the left side of the Giant infield and a metric ton of walks, there wasn't anything really out of the ordinary. One variation I went with this game was changing from alphanumeric notation for hits (1B-9) to linear (_/). Given the limited amount of real estate in the boxes on the BBWAA scorebook, I decided to see if it would increase the clarity of the cards. I think the experiment was a success and continued to use it for the remainder of the trip.

The Accommodations:

Centum City Hotel
Centum City Hotel

I don't remember ordering this room, but I do have to wonder what I was thinking. The Centum City Hotel was right next door to Busan's largest convention center, and it was one of the poshest places I've ever stayed. There was a Lions International convention in town, so it was full of Westerners, which was the largest concentration thereof I had seen since I arrived up to that point.

The hotel itself is part of a larger mall complex, and it is somewhat built in to that structure. They were strict about their check-in time, so I had to leave my back with the concierge while I did my wanderings around before check-in. Once I came back at check-in time, there were lines twelve deep to check in, a process that took a good twenty minutes, but eventually ended.

When I got up to my room on the executive suites level, I really started wondering what I was thinking when I booked this place. My room was a huge suite, with a separate living room, bedroom, bath, and kitchen. Kitchen. This place had a damned kitchen. At this point, I went to check my book to see how much I paid for this luxury apartment, and I remembered why I probably did this: because the room just wasn't that expensive at all, especially for a room that had a direct view of the convention center plaza next door.

The bathroom was a little problematic because there did not seem to be any way to use the shower that did not immediately flood the bathroom. Now, there were signs warning to be careful of slippery floors, but I'm not sure this was what they had in mind. I'm a reasonably smart person. There weren't any hidden doors or the like I could find. I was utterly baffled by this arrangement since the room was so well thought-out and opulent.

For all its relative benefits and demerits, I spent a grand total of two hours in it awake.



2012 Korea