Take me out to the ballgame…

September 2, 2009

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By far the most popular sport in Busan is baseball, and currently Busan’s team, the Lotte Giants, are battling for a fourth place spot, the cutoff point for the playoffs and the post-season. On Saturday I went with the Host Fam to see the Giants take on the Woori Heroes, an important game as both teams are vying for that fourth place spot.

The food at the game was something to behold. First there were these little doughnuttish things molded to look like little corns-on-the-cob:

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A machine squirts a set amount of goo (yes, goo) into little metal corn molds, which are then cooked. The outside is cakey, but the inside is stuffed with a viscous filling that’s much like the cream of a custard doughnut, but the cream is more glutinous and less sweet. What’s most unsettling about these snacks is that I think the inside is actually just the goo from the machine that didn’t cook. They were probably one of the most unhealthy things I’ve ever consumed. And they weren’t good, per se, but I still ate a gross number of them.

Next there was squid (tentacles and (head?)):

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I think it was fried in butter, but I’m not completely sure. Tasty!

The stadium was packed to full capacity and the crowd was wonderfully raucous. Interestingly, one of the favorite players seemed to be the Mexican “Garcia,” the only player with facial hair, whose name under a Korean tongue becomes something like “Gah-(l/r)eu-see-uh.” He’s a stocky galoot with a significantly substandard batting average, but when he makes contact the ball soars; he’s your run-of-the-mill slugger, one of the Gashouse Gorillas:

But my impression is that you don’t get too much of this type in Korean baseball, and so the crowd loves it. Even when he hits a pop fly that is clearly going to land gently in the glove of the center-fielder, the crowd stands up and “whoooooooaaaa”s like it’s a near-home-run.

There are certain similarities between the Korean and the American baseball stadium experience. Just like in America, there was a “Kiss Cam.” Also, a man proposed to his girlfriend; she said yes. But there was plenty that was different. The Lotte Giants do not have batboys; they have batgirls. They wear white skirts, orange tank tops, pink baseball caps, and pigtails. Make of this what you will. And there is no seventh-inning stretch, but there is a sixth.

The cheering is definitely the most exciting part of the game. They whole crowd is electric, and they have a different cheer or song for every single player, usually incanted when that player comes to bat. One fun Giants idiosyncrasy is that fans bring newspaper to the game and through a system of tearing and twisting they make their own pom-poms (see second to last picture, below). Also, in the eighth inning orange plastic bags are distributed by stadium personnel for everyone to make these ridiculous looking hats. The bag is tied so that it’s full of air, and the two loop handles are wrapped around the ears, with the bright orange plastic sac of air on top of the head. It looks like a swarm of bright orange jellyfish has descended upon the stadium.

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Also, there are cheerleaders. They are on a stage set up in the right field seats, and the majority of the time they do cutesy coordinated dance numbers. They are dressed similarly to the batgirls: white skirts and orange tops, but for some reason in the eighth inning they change into super short jean shorts and tee shirts that say “DIVA.” It’s very unclear as to why this change occurs. I can’t remember if it coincided with the also unclear distribution of the plastic bags. The cheerleaders alternate on stage with a more literal cheer-leader–a man in a Giants uniform and white gloves (and in the first inning he had some kind of white cape or flowy outergarment, making him look very much like a relatively lame superhero, but the cape/flowy outergarment was jettisoned after the first inning) capering and gamboling across the stage, gesticulating in sharp, precise motions, looking like he’s trying to give semaphore code sans-flags, or trying to direct an airplane on a tarmac. He’s always either shouting cheers into a microphone or blowing sharply into a whistle.

One of the weirdest things about the Lotte Giants is that they are the Lotte Giants, not the Busan Giants. Lotte is a megalithic Asian conglomerate that, according to their Wikipedia page, “consists of over 60 business units. . . engaged in such diverse industries as candy manufacturing, beverages, hotels, fast food, retail, financial services, heavy chemicals, electronics, IT, construction, publishing, and entertainment.” Many of the Giants’ cheers consist of only the word “Lotte,” chanted repeatedly. I don’t know if there is really a true equivalent to Lotte in America, but imagine a crowd at a baseball stadium cheering for their team by chanting “GE! GE! Gooooooo GE!” It would be something like that. This subsidization is the standard for every team in the Korean league; other teams include the Samsung Lions, the LG Twins, and the Kia Tigers. But despite this unabashedly postmodern integration of corporate ownership and team (“Lotte Department Store” is even spray-painted on the field), I’ve never seen a more energetic and supportive crowd.

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In conclusion, the game was a blast. With any luck, the Giants will retain their fourth place position and make the post-season. I hope to go back for more, although next time I’ll probably avoid the corn-doughnut things.

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One Response to “Take me out to the ballgame…”

  1. Pete said

    well dude, that looks amazing. I’ve only read about stuff like that and how the baseball over there is all set up by mega corporations as a sort of PR front. It’s crazy, but man those pictures look wild.

    Oh and I was wondering about the following unrelated tangent: I remember seeing a presentation from a Korean kid (who was studying with me in Brazil) about his home town. If it’s Busan (and your pictures look similar–but then I don’t really know what I’m talking about as usual) then Busan reminds me a lot like Rio. Take it for what it’s worth.

    Have fun man, I’m glad I stumbled onto this (through the book of course).

    w/ much love. Enjoy the joy.

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