SK Wyverns v Samsung Lions, Saturday 29th October 2011, 2pm

It’s almost the end of the baseball season and we are into what is apparently known as the Korean Series. Last season’s champions SK Wyverns qualified to play the team that finished top of this year’s standings, Samsung Lions, in a best of seven games finale.

Samsung had won the first two meetings at their Daegu stadium before the action moved north to Munhak, where SK Wyverns had pulled a game back the previous evening. I had to decide whether to go to this game or watch one of the division three football play-offs instead. If the weather forecast had been for rain I’d probably have gone to the football, but as it looked like a sunny day in the Incheon area I got the subway to the baseball instead.

I arrived at Munhak after a ninety minute subway journey and with still about hour to go before the scheduled two o’clock start. The game was sold out and I didn’t have a ticket, but as there are usually some touts kicking around, I wasn’t too concerned.

Lots of food, but no tickets.

I didn’t see anybody selling tickets as I left the subway and so I walked up to the stadium. There were lots of people getting there early but nobody seemed to have any spares for sale. I headed back towards the subway and spotted a bloke with a small handwritten sign. That generally means one of three things over here, he was buying, selling or offering to save my soul. I enquired further and it turned out that he was selling a single ticket with a face value of forty-five thousand won. I only had an hour so I didn’t ask about my prospects for the after-life.

Neither of us spoke much of the other’s language and so I pulled a fifty thousand won note from my wallet. He looked uneasy, so I got another one out. Twice face value didn’t seem unreasonable to me. This freaked him out a bit more and he made a big fuss of turning it down. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to strike a harder bargain at that point or whether he’d never actually seen a fifty thousand won note before and was worried I was trying to pay with money-off coupons for a pizza shop or something.

He very carefully took a five thousand won note from his pocket and made a big show of handing it over with the ticket before taking one of the fifty thousand won notes in my hand. A moment later I understood the reason for his caution as two plain clothes coppers came over and examined the ticket before asking me to confirm that I had paid exactly the face value and no more. Luckily for the Korean bloke I resisted the urge to tell them that I’d handed over a couple of hundred thousand won plus my phone, car keys and shoes. I’m pretty sure that they would have emptied his pockets and handed the contents to me before hauling him away to chokey barefoot.

Most tickets for Munhak are general admission, with just a small proportion of them being for allocated seating. As my ticket was one of the posh ones I didnt need to get inside early, but I did anyway.

My seat was in the Samsung Lions side of the ground, to the left of the plate and level with the pitcher. I was about four or five rows from the front. Most people would regard that as a very good seat with it being so close to the action, but not me. I don’t like the idea of watching the game through the netting that is there to stop you being smacked in the chops by a stray ball. I could have moved to the cheap seats but decided to stick with it. As much as anything I didn’t want to worry the bloke who had sold me the ticket by not being there when he arrived.

Samsung Lions fans

It was a decent seat for watching the warm-ups, which is handy I suppose when you get in so long before the start. I did wonder how specialised a job being a ‘warm-up’ pitcher is? The fella that was sending down the balls for Samsung Lions must have thrown far more than any pitcher playing in the game would do, albeit at a lower intensity. Did he then spend the rest of the afternoon tossing the ball back and forwards with the relief pitchers too? It seemed a lot of effort and not very much glory. I doubt that it was what he had dreamed of as a kid.

He didn't even get in the photo.

I don’t often see the start of baseball games, particularly evening ones, but for this one I got to witness the celebrity opening pitch  by a girl who seemed well-known to a fair proportion of the crowd and then the national anthem played on a saxophone. I haven’t been missing much if I’m honest about it. My section was still quite empty when the game started although the other areas of the ground had filled up nicely. It was a good ten minutes into the game before the bloke who’d sold me my ticket turned up with his mate. As he’d been outside for at least an hour beforehand it did strike me as quite poor timekeeping to still manage to miss the opening innings.

Samsung got off to a good start with two runs early on. The starting pitcher for the Wyverns, Kim Kwang Heong, struggled a bit and he got the hook early in fourth after conceding a third run. I’d like to think that he went to help his mate out warming up the relief pitchers rather than sulking at his big day coming to a premature end.

Kim Kwang Heong gets the game underway for the Wyverns

The opening fella for the Lions, Yoon Seong Hwan, fared marginally better surviving slightly longer into the fourth innings before making the long walk back to the dugout. His team was leading 4-1 at that stage so I dare say he was a little happier than his counterpart. After a couple of hours there were still people coming in. I know that it’s a game that can go on for four hours or so, but come on, it’s the play-off final and it’s a Sunday afternoon.

The blokes next to me were Wyvern supporters, so not only had they bought one ticket too many, they had bought them for the wrong part of the ground. I did wonder whether the pair of them had turned up the night before and found out their tickets were for the wrong day as well. They were a bit more organised with the food and drink though with one of them nipping to the concourse for some fried chicken and beer. They very generously passed me a can and offered me some of their chicken. I’d been taking it easy up until that point, staying off the beer, but as so often happens that first cold one of the afternoon opened the floodgates and when it was gone I went and got us another six. Why not, it was a warm autumn afternoon and a few beers to just take the edge off the day seemed appropriate.

They seemed to be enjoying themselves too.

The other lad then disappeared and returned with some fried mandu and a bag full of beer. The afternoon was getting better by the minute. When that beer had all gone I went back and got us some more as by this time the bloke to my left was joining in as well. After an hour or so we were high five-ing each other any time a Wyverns player got anywhere near the ball. Even the Samsung fan on my left seemed happy to cheer on the opposition efforts once the beer had kicked in.

Samsung added a fifth run in the seventh and it looked at that stage as if the game was over. Wyverns hit straight back though with a three run homer to reduce the deficit to a single run.

The Wyverns celebrate their comeback.

At one stage in their seventh innings SK Wyverns had nobody out and a bloke on each of first and third bases. If they were going to do something in the series than that was their time. They didn’t take the opportunity though and another two runs in the eighth for Samsung followed by one in the ninth made it 8-4.

SK couldn’t come back from that and Samsung took a three to one lead in the best of seven contest.

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