Going to a baseball game in Korea is nothing like going to a baseball game back home. As I remember the Toronto Blue Jays games when I was a teen, there was very little cheering, just the low chatter of the fans and the announcers voice guiding us through the game. There were no songs and I don’t recall ever doing “the wave” at a baseball game either. Things may have changed since those days but I never went back so it’s the laid-back, low energy atmosphere that I remember of ball games back home.
In Korea, it’s totally different. It’s noisy and active, cheers and chants going off every 2 minutes, snippets of songs bursting out of all speakers in surround sound at all times. It had the noise and energy level of a Canadian hockey game so it was quite a culture shock to watch this happen at a ball game.
My friends and I went to see the LG Twins play the NC Dinos and sat in the Dinos fan section. When I say LG I mean LG as in the electronics and appliance company, which is an interesting difference in Korean baseball as well. In the KBO (Korea Baseball Organization), most teams are established under corporations like Lotte department store corporation or LG electronics for example. So they have teams like the Lotte Giants, the Samsung Lions or the KIA Tigers, instead of city-named teams like we have in the west like the Toronto Blue Jays or the Boston Red Sox. In the case of the NC Dinos, they are owned by NCSOFT, a video and computer game company.
In the stadium, there are platforms set up on each team’s side of the seating area. Each platform had a guy standing there who was the team mascot, but no big bird costume or anything. Just him, in a baseball uniform, keeping each side pumped up and ready to sing. Each mascot would often be joined by cheerleaders, another thing we don’t have in western baseball, who would step up to the platform and do choreographed dance routines to the beat of the mascot’s whistle blowing or the cheer being chanted by the fans.
It was so noisy in fact, that I was amazed at how the pitchers and batters could concentrate on what they were doing. I suspect they are used to it but most teams have a few international players on their team (from Japan or the US for example) and I wonder what they think of all the ruckus.
Another big difference is the party-like atmosphere outside the stadium. There are vendors selling snacks and beer for reasonable prices and there are also commercial chains like KFC and Burger King there. You can buy boxes of fried chicken from many different vendors as well, although the chicken has already been cooked and is probably not too hot by the time you get to eat it. People buy their food outside the stadium, grab some cans of beer or juice and take their bags of food inside. Or, you can eat and drink outside just hanging out with the other fans.
At the Toronto Sky Dome (now the Rogers Centre), a pint of beer (although a very big pint) used to cost around $11 as I last remember. The last time I was at an event at the Toronto Stadium, you could only buy one pint at a time and your ID was scrutinized every single time. There were often not enough vendors and very long line ups, creating frustration at the games. In Korea, there are several mini convenience stores inside the stadium, selling all kinds of drinks, alcoholic or non, snacks and all other items common in a 7-11 and all at regular street value. So if a can of beer would cost $2.50 on the street, it would cost the same inside the stadium. Same goes for food prices. No price gouging going on in Korea which makes a day at the games fun and affordable. Tickets to the game were only 10,000 won (approx $10.60 CAD) which was great too. Aside from the several convenience stores in the stadium, there are also some vendors walking around the seats selling beer out of a big tank on their backs. This, I imagine would not taste very fresh, but just the image of portable pints was hilarious and quite ingenious.
After the game (the NC Dinos won), fans of both teams gathered outside the stadium to mourn their loss or celebrate their win with eats from the various food stands. The place was packed and smelled delicious. We were tempted to join in on the food but there was no room for all of us to sit together.
Overall it was a great experience and one I’ll never forget. It made me appreciate the game a lot more and the passion from the fans was both amusing and contagious. We will definitely be back to Jamsil Stadium for more games this summer!