A few weeks ago, we went with a big group of friends to Busan to see a Lotte Giants baseball game. We had heard a lot from other expat friends that Korean baseball is an awesome time, so I guess we had to see it to believe it. Let me tell you, we were not let down.
An Australian friend made arrangements for a small coach bus to come pick us up from Ulsan and drive us to the game and back. It wasn’t a bad deal at $25 per person. The only better deal we got were the tickets, for about $12 a piece! We were only about 10 or 15 rows back from the field and we had an awesome view of the game, though, as you’ll see, that really isn’t important at all to enjoy the experience that is Korean baseball.
Similar to the basketball league, the baseball teams here in Korea are sponsored by and named for various Korean companies. Lotte, as I’m learning in my Korean culture book Korea: THe Impossible Country, is a massive conglomerate company like Hyundai used to be. There are Lotte Marts (grocery stores), Lotte Department Stores, Lotteria (a take out chicken place), Lotte brand chocolate, and Lotte even has its own bank and credit card company. Oh, yeah, and they own the Lotte Giants of Busan.
One of the amazing things about Korean baseball is that they allow you to bring your own ANYTHING into the stadium – food, drinks, and even homemade pom-poms, which were obviously highly encouraged. Due to this rule, the Home plus next door to the stadium rakes in money on game days. EVERYONE, and I do mean everyone, packs into this place just before the game starts. We picked up lots of snacks and a few cans of beer and made our way to the stadium. We couldn’t resist buying blow up #1 hands from vendors on the way in. Who could resist?
Arriving in the stadium was a bit challenging, as you can’t enter certain parts of the stadium from the outside without the proper ticket, but once on the inside you can freely move from section to section without a problem. That was kind of odd, but as we were seated in two different sections, we wanted to be able to visit with each other during the game. And take photos, of course.
One time when moving between sections, I was approached for my very first “oh hey, you’re white take a photo with me!” experience. And I say that in the least weird way possible. A lot of expats here talk about being approached for a photo with some Koreans, and I still don’t get the appeal, but these two guys stopped me to strike a “kimchi” pose because I was so obviously out of place. Come to think of it, we really didn’t see any other foreigners at the game. And this is a stadium of thousands!
In the end, having our group being split between sections didn’t matter much because all fans at this game were incredibly entertaining. Listen, American sports fans can be hard core, especially when it comes to team loyalty, but there is nothing – and I mean nothing – like a Korean baseball game. Everyone, each person in every single seat, sings along to all of the chants. It must be horribly terrifying to be on the away team. The fans are so involved in the experience, you can’t not have fun.
One of the funniest things at the game was that all of the chants and songs were recognizable English tunes that had the words changed to Korean. We found ourselves singing along to everything but using the English words!
Oh, and when something exciting happens (sorry if you’re a baseball fan, but let’s be honest, this is rare), the entire stadium gets up off its feet and screams as loud as possible. It’s pretty fantastic to experience.
They have all the standard game time fun: mascots, kiss cam, etc. and then some non-traditional things like an “eye fight” (staring contest) and short-short wearing dancers. The dancers got lots of whoops from everyone, even the ladies! Similar to the basketball game, there was a sort of emcee who dressed in a funny suit outfit and led all the cheers with the dancers. We got lots of great video of this.
As the game wound down into the final innings – we weren’t sure how long it was going to be as 12 innings were listed on the scoreboard – a few stadium workers came around with orange plastic grocery bags to be used to clean up after yourself. We heard from our friends who had previously attended a game that these would be used for an entirely different purpose: blow air into it and put it on your head using the handles as straps for your ears. Why? I’m not sure. It sounds silly, but again, everyone does it. And it’s fantastically wacky.
A girl sitting in front of me got all fancy with her bag and made a cute little bow reminiscent of Minnie Mouse. I thought to myself, oh that’s cute (and looks way better than a big poof on my head), I want to do that! Note to self: once the bag has been inflated, it will no longer transform into anything “cute”. As you can tell from my expression below, my attempt was very flawed.
On the way back to the bus, we realized we’d be sitting in traffic for a while waiting to get out of the stadium area. However, it turns out our bus driver had parked in some special area because one of the players was hanging out at another vehicle nearby! We all piled in for a group shot to celebrate our awesomely fun time.
If you ever have a chance to get in on this action, we highly, highly recommend it. Go Giants!