Monday, July 23, 2007

The Fan

After my introduction to baseball in Korea I've been watching it regularly on TV, although I'm still learning the intricacies of the game so I'm not sure I can be defined as a fan yet. Still, on the way back home from an afternoon out on Saturday, we stopped to watch outside an LG clothes store as Lotte Giants were tied 3-3 in the 9th innings against SK Wyverns. Normally these monitors just show adverts, but some of the staff had gathered outside to watch - to be honest it wasn't as though they were doing a lot of business selling casual wear at seven in the evening. I'm told that Lotte's record against SK is woeful and that a victory for Lotte would be a rare event, so there was a real sense of tension out there on the street as a progressively larger crowd gathered.

Lotte and SK had actually played the night before, and would play again on Sunday evening in addition to Saturday. I can't quite get my head around why they would play three games against each other one day after another, but apparently doing things this way cuts down on travelling, which is logical though no less stranger for it. In the UK football teams regularly criss-cross the country on their way to and from matches, and they tend to head home immediately afterwards as a rule. Friday's game had been the more usual one-sided affair, and ESPN tried to hold the TV audience's attention with coverage of a woman dressed in a boob tube, jumping up and down in a sparsely occupied stand, presumably with the intention of encouraging the local team. Apparently oblivious to the sudden celebrity her gravity-defying antics were creating, this being Korea one of her friends eventually called to let her know she was now officially more interesting than the game going on below her. She stopped and Lotte lost.

Saturday's game didn't appear to be any better attended from the TV pictures, but this proved deceptive. A friend of ours had actually gone to the game and later informed us that not only was there a good turnout, but that fighting broke out between SK and Lotte fans and bottles had been hurled between the two groups - which may explain the sparsity of crowd shots in the coverage - sex yes, violence no (although bull-fighting may be OK). Apparently the fighting may have started when the Lotte fans started chanting to their rivals that they should 'go back to making ladies underwear' - before SK was yet another large Korean conglomerate, it made its money from oil, and before that, the aforementioned female undergarments. Corporate-back baseball rivalries bring up such interesting situations - does any die-hard SK fan ever shop at Lotte Mart or buy Samsung products?

When I'd watched Lotte play the Samsung Lions, everyone seemed good natured despite the considerable quantities of alcohol being consumed, and I had assumed this was normal here and that Korea didn't suffer from the kind of violence we get regularly at football matches in the UK. I don't know why I should think that the bad temper that is regularly on display in the streets these days (there was another altercation between a cyclist and motorist yesterday next to our apartment which required a police presence) should not extend to baseball stadiums - clearly it does. Another happy illusion about my newly enforced home is shattered.

Lotte eventually beat SK on Saturday, but normal service was resumed the next day and the home team were once again, soundly thrashed.

Korean keywords: 야구, 싸움, 경기

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