With baseball season in full swing, cheering for Lotte is Giant fun
Baseball makes its triumphant return to Busan, and citizens are ready to cheer for their Lotte Giants. But how do the Giants and their fans fit into the history of the KBO and, ultimately, the history of baseball in Korea?
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A new spring is reason enough for anyone to celebrate, but it's made even better with the rip-roaring return of Korea's national pastime: baseball. One of the hungriest squads in the league is Busan's own Lotte Giants. The Giants are about to embark on their 38th professional season, and the team's passionate fans are the reason that Busan is Korea's most exciting baseball city.
■ Sajik Stadium's Culture of Cheering
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First things first: if you are new to Busan, a Giants game is unlike anything you have ever experienced. While all sports feature and encourage the energetic screams, yells and sounds of fans, games at Sajik Baseball Stadium are an entirely different breed of volume, music and fun.
The Giants are one of the KBO's original six teams. They debuted in 1982 and have won the Korean Series twice: in 1984 and 1992. Busan and the Lotte Giants have been responsible for more than a few excellent baseball players, such as current Giant and former Seattle Mariner Dae-ho Lee and current Texas Ranger Shin-soo Choo. The team has three mascots whom are all seagulls, since Busan is Korea's port city. The mascots are named Noori, Fini and Ahra.
lthough the Lotte Giants'inaugural season was 1982, Busan fans have been cheering on their team at Sajik since 1985. The stadium itself gained popularity for the rabid enthusiasm with which Busanites cheer, and for good reason. During a typical home game, Sajik turns into one of the world's largest outdoor karaoke venues. Dancing cheerleaders lead the way, and they in turn are led by a man on a microphone who leads the enraptured audience in chants and cheers. Up to 26,000 spectators let their voices be heard loudly and clearly by singing songs and shouting playful insults to the opposing team's players.
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Right from the beginning, the head cheerleader leads the crowd to chant the batting order. This very example is something that does not happen in the United States's Major League Baseball. Furthermore, every player in a Lotte Giants uniform has his own song, which the crowd sings together. At the start of a brand new season, it is the head cheerleader's job to teach those in attendance new songs for any first-year Giants. By the end of the game, everyone in attendance knows how the songs go.
The singing doesn't stop with the players, however. During breaks in the action, the cheerleaders lead Giants fans into songs of the team and of victory. Many of these songs come with hand gestures that are equally fun to take part in as the singing itself.
One unique chant you may encounter during a game at Sajik is "ajura," which roughly translates to "give a kid the ball," because Busanites believe that adults should give any foul and home run balls to children.
There's also "ma,"which is more Busan slang and more or less translates to an admonishing "you!" or "how dare you!" The crowd shouts "ma!" at opposing pitchers after they try to pick off Lotte players at first base.
But the crown jewel of this culture of cheering begins in the seventh inning. As a way to encourage people to clean up their trash, the stadium distributes garbage bags, which fans promptly tie onto their heads. Whether you choose to inflate your bag first or tie it into a bow, everyone in the stadium will be adorning their heads with them, bringing a sense of unity and community to the game. The way that Busan enjoys baseball is unheard of in the United States and is so unique that it has garnered attention from news giants such as the BBC, from the United Kingdom, and CNN, from the United States.
■ Baseball in Korea: a storied history
Baseball is Korea's favorite sport, and it has a long history in the country. In 1905, Philip Gillett, an American missionary, introduced the game to Korea's Christian youth. The game began to gain popularity in 1909, when a group of students studying abroad returned to Korea intent on starting a team. The game's popularity continued to grow throughout the Japanese colonial period.
In 1923, an association was established as the first professional baseball league in the nation. Fast forward to 1982, and you see the modern-day KBO, where various national companies participated in putting together their own teams and stadiums.
The KBO's original group of teams were quite different than the batch that plays today. Four of the original six teams either no longer exist, or have changed their name in some way. These four include the Haitai Tigers, MBC Chungyong, the OB Bears and the Sammi Superstars (which became the Hyundai Unicorns, now defunct). The other original team, apart from the Giants, is the Samsung Lions of Daegu.
Currently, the number of KBO teams is 10. The newest club is Suwon's KT Wiz, which celebrated its inaugural season in 2015. Other squads include the KIA Tigers (formerly the Haitai Tigers) of Gwangju, with 11 series titles to their name, the Doosan Bears (formerly the OB Bears), LG Twins (formerly the MBC Chungyong) and recently renamed Kiwoom Heroes from Seoul, the NC Dinos from Changwon, Incheon's SK Wyverns, and the Hanwha Eagles of Daejeon. The Samsung Lions are still playing, and, obviously, so are the Lotte Giants.
According to the KBO, over 130 million spectators have gone to ball games since 1982, and six million spectators visit stadiums every year to cheer their teams. This year will be no different, especially as far as Busan and its cheering fans are concerned. Through highs and lows, wins and losses, Lotte fans will always remain passionate.
Welcome back, baseball. Busan has missed you dearly!
■ Location and game times
Sajik Baseball Stadium is located between subway stations Sajik and Sports Complex, on metro line three. The ticket office is closer to Sajik station, but getting off at Sports Complex could be a good idea, due to the nearby Home Plus and street vendors serving reasonably-priced snacks and beverages. Games are usually at 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and 5 p.m. on weekends. Some games begin at 2 p.m. during the early part of the season, because it gets cold in the evenings. Lines at the box office can get long, so if you're buying tickets in person, it's a good idea to show up early.
How to buy tickets: Spectators can buy tickets at the Lotte Giants website (www.giantsclub.com/eng). In addition, they can buy tickets at the ticket office in person one hour before game time from Tuesday through Thursday, as well as two hours before game time from Friday through Sunday. Admission fees vary depending on seat positions, and you can see them at the website (English available).
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With beer brought to your seat, it's easy to get in the cheering spirit.