Archive for May, 2012

LG Twins v Nexen Heroes, Thursday 24th May 2012, 6.30pm

May 31, 2012

It’s nearly a fortnight since I’ve seen any live sport as my regular monthly visit to Oman went on for a few days longer than it usually does and kept me there over the weekend. Whilst the trip to the construction site in the desert does give my liver a bit of a break, in truth it’s a fairly dull place to spend any longer than a day or two.

The highlights of each trip are usually my encounters with the camp dog. That’s a desert dog that hangs around the site rather than a canine with a liking for musicals or tightly fitting shirts. I try to take him some food from breakfast each day, sometimes Spam, occasionally mini-burgers, although this time he did better than normal with some lamb steak that I had saved for him after a barbecue night. He’s quite gentle for a dog that lives in the desert and rather than wolfing the steak down in one, he got me to break it into pieces for him. I’m not at all convinced that he’s cut out for living somewhere so remote and inhospitable. A bit like me really.

He’s not quite so blurry in real life.

I don’t often have the opportunity to see much of Oman but on this trip I went out into the desert with a couple of workmates and had a look at some salt caves. They were inside a large crater caused by a meteorite and the cool air within them was a welcome contrast to wandering around in the forty odd degree afternoon heat

It was like somewhere the Tardis might land.

Anyway, back to Korea and the baseball. The mid-week series at Jamsil was between LG Twins and Nexen Heroes. Usually the visit of Nexen wouldn’t have been of much interest to anyone, they tend to spend most of their time near to the bottom of the table. This season though it’s different and Nexen are currently the form team. After recording 3-0 series victories over Samsung Lions and Lotte Giants last week, Nexen had extended their winning run to eight games by taking the first two games against LG Twins this week.

The latest win had propelled them to the top of the standings with a 60% win percentage,after thirty-six games. It’s the first time that Nexen had been in pole position since the days when they used to play in Suwon as the Hyundai Unicorns.

The prospect of seeing a ninth win in a row for Nexen would have been enough to tempt me along anyway. What made the fixture even better was that LG had decided to use Ben Jukich as their starting pitcher. Jukich’s winning streak isn’t quite up there with Nexen’s, but he had finished on the winning side on the last four times that he’d started. Someone’s run had to come to an end.

Ben Jukich – LG Twins

The main ticket office was quite busy as I arrived at Jamsil, so I nipped around the corner to one of the smaller ones. This also meant that I could buy some chicken that was being grilled on an outdoor barbecue rather than the usual fried stuff that may very well have been boxed a few hours earlier.

LG were batting in their first innings as I took my seat and they were already a run up. It didn’t take them long to extend their lead to three-nil. Nexen starter Jang Hyo Jun was getting hit all over the shop, although he wasn’t helped by some poor fielding from his colleagues. By the time that we had got to the end of the third LG were five-nil up and poor Jang had already thrown eighty balls, compared to the forty-one deliveries sent down by his opposite number Jukich.

Jang Hyo Jun – Nexen Heroes

Jang Hyo Jun survived until early in the fifth innings before being pulled without adding to the five runs he had conceded. By this time Nexen seemed to have picked up the pace a bit. They seemed sharper in the field and looked more likely to open their account with the bat.

Nexen’s Yoo Han Joon got his usual stick from the Twins fans whenever he came to the plate. I still haven’t found out what makes him so unpopular at Jamsil, but whatever it is, the home supporters love having a pop at him. In the fifth he was able to give them a bit back by getting the hit that allowed a team-mate home for Nexen’s first run of the evening.

Yoo Han Joon – Nexen Heroes

In the sixth, Song Ji Man got to third with a slog that just failed to clear the wall but was sufficient to let one of the others get around for a run. A moment later, a team-mate’s sacrificial bunt enabled Song to get home too and it was five –three. Game on.

The visitors reduce the deficit to two runs.

Jukich  was pulled early in the seventh having given up three runs and four hits. He’d still thrown less pitches than Jang Hyo Jun who by that time had been off the park long enough to have showered, changed and picked up a pizza on the way home.

By the time we got to the ninth it was still five-three. LG brought Bong Jung Keun on to close it out and he managed it easily enough.

Victory for the Twins

I couldn’t help but think that Nexen had wasted the opportunity for a ninth successive victory by fielding a relatively inexperienced starting pitcher. The game had seemed over at five-nil after three and whilst they made a decent fight of it, the five run start that they gave to LG was too much to pull back.

Despite the loss Nexen remained top of the standings, with LG’s victory moving them up into fourth position. Heady times for both teams.

Goyang Wonders v Nexen Heroes, Sunday 13th May 2012, 1pm

May 30, 2012

It had been a quiet week for sport. I’ll usually try to get along to at least one midweek football or baseball fixture, but this week I hadn’t managed it. The main reason for this being that Jen and I had stumbled across the all you can eat and drink barbecue in the beer garden at the nearby Renaissance hotel and in what probably seems a little excessive managed to spend three mid-week evenings out of five there.

It’s not that we eat or drink a great deal, although it’s possible that their wine buyer may disagree with me, but it’s nice to sit outside for three hours or so glugging back the red at your own pace and then popping back up for some more of the whole spit-roasted pig whenever you get a bit peckish. The lack of a roof means that I can smoke a couple of Cuban cigars and they even have the baseball on a big screen. It’s a rough old life.

Maybe I should have kept quiet about it.

By the time it got to Saturday though I was keen to see some sport and whilst my options were limited by having to fly to Oman that night, I’d identified a couple of possibilities. I could head out to Icheon and take in a double-header of  Doosan Bears second team in a one o’clock Futures League baseball game followed by Icheon Citizen against Jungnang Chorus Mustang in the Challengers League a couple of hours later. Or, to give myself a bit of much-needed exercise, I could have walked eastwards along the north bank of the Han River for about three hours until I reached Champion’s Park which is where LG Twins play their reserve baseball fixtures. It’s also where the French team did their training during the 2002 World Cup, although I suspect that they’ll have used the football pitches rather than the baseball field.

I didn’t get up quite as early as I’d intended and so both of those options will have to stay on the ‘to-do’ list. One place that I could get to though was Goyang for a Goyang Wonders baseball game and so I caught the Line 3 subway all the way to the last stop, Daehwa. If you come out of exit four and just walk alongside the main road for ten minutes, you’ll soon spot the baseball stadium. Goyang KB’s football ground is on the other side of the road and it’s just past that.

As I approached the baseball stadium I noticed a Goyang Wonders stall selling merchandise and tickets. It’s the first time that I’ve seen that at this level. I enquired about a ticket, but was told that I didn’t need one. Perhaps the visit of Nexen isn’t a big deal.

All ready in case they ever start charging for admission.

I should probably explain a bit about Goyang Wonders. Or as much as I know anyway. They aren’t a proper KBO Futures team, but they play games most weeks against the KBO Futures teams. I’ve no idea why they aren’t in the league and I’ve even less idea why the other teams play against them. But, it’s another option for somewhere to go.

A lot of the fans were wearing shirts with the number Thirty-Eight on them. I didn’t see a player on the field with that number but discovered later that it’s in tribute to the head coach Kim Sung Kun. He’s knocking on seventy and from what I’ve read it seems that he has coached just about every team in the KBO over the years.

I didn’t see any shirts with other numbers on them.

The stadium was pretty good. It looked as if it hadn’t been built too long ago but it had a nice layout with a sort of clubhouse behind the plate, then two small stands to either side of it that would each hold about a hundred people. A bigger stand extended along the remaining length of each side. You could probably get about four hundred people in each of those two larger stands. The only drawback was the netting. No matter where I sat I couldn’t get a view that wasn’t obscured. There wasn’t any seating in the outfield and it wasn’t possible to peer over the top of the netting from anywhere else.

Home of the Goyang Wonders.

I think the starting pitcher for Goyang was a fella called Sendy Rleal. There’s very little information on the Futures League available, but a bit of research from Jen on some Korean sites narrowed it down a bit. If it was Mr Rleal, then I can tell you that he’s from the Dominican Republic and he’s played Major League Baseball for the Baltimore Orioles. Quite what he thought about turning out for a team that plays unofficial matches against Korean reserve teams is anyone’s guess.

Sendy Rleal – Goyang Wonders

He gave up a run in the first before Goyang fought back with a two run homer from Hong Jae Yong that cleared a twenty metre high fence at the outfield and still looked to be rising as it disappeared into the park next door. Two-one to Goyang.

Sendy Rleal lasted until the fifth innings, by which time Nexen had pulled one back to make it two-each. The pace picked up a bit at this point and by the eighth Nexen had moved into an eight-four lead.  It should have all been over but a bit of arsing about from the visitors, walking three batters and then conceding a four run homer, brought Goyang right back into it.

The view from the other end.

Nexen made amends in the ninth by scoring another three runs. This proved to be too much for the hosts who could only post a single run in reply and Nexen took the game eleven-nine. Overall I was impressed with the set-up at Goyang. The hundred and fifty strong crowd were enthusiastic and they’ve got a more than adequate stadium for the level that they are at. It’s not big enough to ever hold out the prospect of a move into the KBO proper, but it does justice to the idea of independent teams playing alongside the reserve sides in the second tier.

LG Twins v Doosan Bears, Sunday 6th May 2012, 2pm

May 29, 2012

“Everyday is like Sunday, everyday is silent and grey…”

Not this Sunday though, because this was the Sunday that Morrissey came to Seoul. How good’s that? In the couple of years that I’ve been here I’ve only seen Elvis Costello, Mogwai and a few not so memorable Korean bands. That’s it, apart from keeping Jen company at a Duran Duran gig.

Whilst Japan seems to be a must-visit sort of place, Korea rarely seems to attract anything like the same amount of touring bands. I’d been on edge over the Morrissey gig since getting the tickets a few weeks earlier as the first Sunday in the month is usually the day that I spend travelling to Oman for a couple of meetings in the desert. Luckily this month my trip was scheduled for a week later and I was free to get along to the AX-centre on the Sunday evening.

It had been a late night on the Saturday and any plans that I’d had for a Sunday hike were scuppered by the hangover. I wasn’t really expecting to do very much until I put the telly on at 2pm and realised that the day’s baseball fixtures were about to start.  Twenty minutes later I was at Jamsil for the derby between LG Twins and Doosan Bears.

Despite it being busy I thought I’d take my chances on an outfield ticket.  As I emerged from the tunnel it looked like I might have made a mistake as there were already people sitting in the aisles. I spotted a seat without a bag on it and the bloke next to it was gracious enough not to try to claim that he was saving it for a friend who hadn’t yet arrived. Or indeed been born.

No spare seats.

It was a really sunny day, perfect for baseball and with the second innings about to start, still scoreless. Ben Jukich was the starting pitcher for LG. He’s in his second season with the Twins and is one of their better pitchers. From what I’ve discovered he didn’t ever get to play Major League baseball in America, but he’s certainly been effective in Korea.

Ben Jukich – LG Twins

Kim Seung Hye was the starting pitcher for Doosan.

Kim Seung Hye – Doosan Bears

Neither of these teams are likely to win the title, so bragging rights over the team that shares their stadium makes these games important for both sets of fans. Doosan took the lead with a run in the third.

Standing room only at the front.

 Doosan didn’t stay in front for long though and a mix-up in the fourth enabled LG to level the scores. Doosan’s Kim Jae Ho who was fielding at second just failed to run out the lad who was running towards him before firing in the ball to first to try to get  Yoon Jin Ho out. Unfortunately his wild throw went over the head of the first baseman and in the following panic, not only did Ho make it to second, but the other fella got all the way around to fourth for LG’s first run of the afternoon.

The second run came soon afterwards when a hit from Twins infielder Kim Jae Yool enabled Yoon Jin Ho to get home from second and put his side into the lead.

Now whilst all this was very enjoyable, it wasn’t  a baseball day really, it was a Morrissey day. So if I tell you that Doosan scored a couple of runs in the fifth before LG got three in the eighth to run out five–three winners then that’s probably enough baseball talk for this occasion.

A good day for these fellas.

So, Mozza. He was on at the AX-Centre. It’s the place where we saw Mogwai last year and it probably holds about a thousand people. We arrived just before seven and whilst we were chatting away outside one of the security fellas very kindly made a point of letting us know that Morrissey would be on stage bang on seven.

We collected our tickets from the box office and headed in to our upstairs seats. I’ve seen Morrissey at least a dozen times or so over the last twenty years. Sometimes at festivals, sometimes at small venues around the UK, sometimes at the big Manchester ‘homecoming’ gigs. If you’ve seen him before then this one was just like any of those gigs, with a fanatical crowd hanging off his every word and pushing  towards the stage for the chance of a handshake or to give him a flower or two.

Yep, that’s him.

His set list was decent with a good balance between Smiths songs, a varied selection of older solo stuff and some of the better tracks from the more recent albums. He kicked off with ‘How Soon Is Now’,  and got ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’ in early on.

That’s him too.

I was expecting a comment from him about eating dogs after Meat Is Murder, but he let it go. He included ‘I Know It’s Over’ and I can generally forgive him for whatever recent stuff he plays if I get to hear that one. Whilst we didn’t get ‘There Is A Light…’ or ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’ he did finish on a high with ‘First Of The Gang To Die’.

By eight thirty it was all over. Morrissey and the band had a plane to catch to Singapore which might have explained the early start and finish. I’ll settle for that anytime he likes.

Incheon United v Jeonbuk Motors, Saturday 5th May 2012, 3pm

May 26, 2012

Incheon has a new stadium this season. The one that they had built for the World Cup ten years ago at Munhak was deemed a bit dated and in a perfect illustration of the pace at which everything changes in Korea, a brand new ground was built.

It had been over a month since I’d last watched Jeonbuk in their away game at FC Seoul and I’d been waiting for Incheon’s fixture with Jeonbuk before paying my first visit to the new ground.  Jeonbuk has had a relatively poor start to the season and last season’s champions went into this game in fifth place. Lee Dong Gook has been doing pretty well though, his two Asian Champions League goals against Chinese club Guangzhou Evergrande in mid-week taking his total for the season so far to thirteen.

Jen and I got the subway from Yeoksam, changed at Sindorim and then took Line One to Dowon. It’s over thirty stops and it took us around an hour and a half. The new stadium looked impressive as we approached it. There’s an uncovered end behind one of the goals and as you walk up from the station it looks like a three-sided ground.

Brand new.

At Incheon’s opening home game the ticketing arrangement were a fiasco, with two-hour queues and people walking away when they couldn’t get in until after the game had started. I suspect that a lot of those fans won’t bother coming back, which is a shame. It worked out nicely for us though as it meant that we could buy our tickets without any trouble.

No queues this time.

We took our seats in one of the stands down the side of the pitch. The East one I think. We chose it because it was bathed in sunshine so those of you who know about sun movements will probably be able to tell if I’m right or not. There were more families around than normal which I put down to it being Children’s Day.

When my kids were young they would often ask me on Father’s Day when Children’s Day was. “Every day is bloody Children’s Day” tended to be my less than gracious response, possibly prompted by having to appear enthusiastic about another pair of novelty socks.

In Korea though, they do have a special day when you are not supposed to beat the little darlings quite so much as you normally would. Instead parents will mark the day by taking their offspring somewhere exciting, like a K-League fixture between Incheon and Jeonbuk.

As part of the celebration there were about a hundred small kids on the pitch before the game. Orphans I imagine, probably hoping that someone who had celebrated Children’s Day with too much soju might just take them home with them.

“I’ll take two with black hair please, if you have any.”

As the players came out, I noticed that Lee Dong Gook wasn’t starting. Maybe at thirty-three, two games a week is a little much for him. With Incheon being bottom of the league I imagine that his manager thought that they could get a result without him.

I reckon that there were about four thousand fans in the twenty thousand capacity ground, including around four hundred from Jeonbuk. The visiting fans had a section of the open end to our right, whilst at the other end the more vocal of the home supporters were congregated in a safe-standing area at the bottom of a single tier stand. When you add in the decision not to include a running track, I’d say that the Incheon stadium is probably the best football stadium in Korea.

The Incheon fans and their safe standing section.

Incheon took the lead in the second minute when a direct free-kick from the edge of the box was put straight into the top corner. Jeonbuk have recently been starting with the forty-one year old ex-Daejeon Citizen keeper Choi Eun Sung. It’s a hazard of being that age that every time you let one in people will wonder if you are still up to it. I doubt he’d have stopped that one twenty years ago though.

“Oooh, me aching back”

 A quarter of an hour in, Jeonbuk equalised when the Brazilian Eninho’s free-kick was deflected in. There has been a bit of a fuss lately over the attempt by national team and former Jeonbuk manager Choi Kang Hee to have Eninho nationalised and brought into the South Korean team in time for the latest round of World Cup qualifiers. There have been a few basketball players given citizenship but I suspect that the difference with them is that they look Korean. Maybe Eninho should celebrate his goals by posing as if in front of a bathroom mirror and flicking at his hair for two minutes whilst people wait behind him to wash their hands. That should convince people that he’s sufficiently integrated into Korean society.

With a few minutes left in the first half a shot from the edge of the box was parried by Choi and the rebound went straight to Park Joon Tae who knocked it in to put Incheon back in front. I’d have to question the ageing keeper for that one, he should really have palmed it to one side of the goal.

It was quite a sunny day.

At half-time I went to replenish my beer supplies and found that they had run out. Or at least they had at the bar nearest to us. The bloke serving did his best by tipping the barrel forwards and he even gave me a free cup of what turned out to be ninety percent froth. Fortunately the bar further along had stocks left so it wasn’t the crisis that it might have been. I’d recommend taking a few cans though, just in case.

The prospect of losing to the bottom club was sufficient to see Lee Dong Gook brought on at the start of the second half. Incheon defended well though and then with ten minutes of the game remaining they broke down the left and scored to make it three-one. I don’t think anyone was expecting that.

Incheon fans celebrate what seems like a certain victory.

Jeonbuk are one of those teams that fight to the end though and with two minutes left Eninho did his case for citizenship no harm with the visiting fans by pulling one back. Jeonbuk threw everyone forward and in the third minute of the four that had been added for stoppages Lee Dong Gook showed his worth by heading home the equaliser and his fourteenth of the campaign.

It’s not over etc.

As the final whistle went it must have felt like a defeat for the home players and fans. Not quite the Children’s Day treat that some of the kids thought that it was turning out to be. One fella was so annoyed that he slapped his season card down on the table in front of Jen and stomped off. Well, it’s the perfect day to behave like a kid.

Season cards are cheap here with the Incheon ones starting at eighty thousand won for twenty-two games. That’s about two quid a game as opposed to the fiver that you’ll pay on the day. Even so, I wonder if he’ll ring the club up and tell them that he’s lost it or whether he will be another one that’s gone for good.

Ansan H v Yongin City, Friday 4th May 2012, 7pm

May 24, 2012

This was the game that confirmed to me that I definitely have caught the groundhopping bug. I know that should have been obvious from some of my earlier trips, but this one really was all about ticking off a ground from my list of places that  I hadn’t yet been to.

I’d turned up for a National League fixture at Ansan’s Wa Stadium last year only to find that they were playing next door on the practice pitch. When I’d checked the fixtures this season it seemed that all of their games were scheduled for the smaller venue rather than the main stadium. All except this game against Yongin City.

So, I probably had one chance all season to see a game in the Wa Stadium. I’d seen Ansan play a home game before, I’d been inside the Wa Stadium before, but I hadn’t actually seen Ansan play at the Wa Stadium. That meant I had to go. What makes it even worse is that the 7pm on a Friday kick-off would prevent me from getting there until half–time. But, as I said, I had to go.

Me in the empty Ansan Wa stadium last year.

I nipped home after work and got changed. As I wouldn’t get there until half-time it didn’t matter if I spent ten minutes getting out of my work clobber, I’d still be there in time to see the start of the second half at around eight o’clock. I got the subway from Yeoksam to Gojan station on Line Four. The journey  took about an hour and the train was packed. So much so that I didn’t get a seat until a couple of stops before I was due to get off. The subway isn’t the most pleasant place to be during rush hour and I generally need a good reason to travel during that time. I’m not wholly convinced that forty-five minutes of second tier football between two teams that I don’t care about really qualifies.

You can see the stadium from the subway exit and I was relieved to notice that the floodlights were on. That tended to suggest that there hadn’t been a last minute change of venue.

The lights being turned on is a good sign.

The Ansan Wa stadium is a bit bigger than most of the stadiums outside of the top division. It has a capacity of thirty-five thousand and a large multi-level Lotte Mart store built into it. I took advantage of it being half-time and nipped to the Lotte Mart basement floor for a box of fried chicken. I shouldn’t have bothered though as it tasted like it had been there since my previous visit.

I walked around the perimeter on the upper level and found a gate open. The concourse was in darkness but I could see the pitch. I went in and it brought me out opposite the main stand. The stadium looked even bigger when inside and the running track that went around the pitch could probably have been a lot more than eight lanes wide if they had wanted. I liked the look of the curved roofs above the stands along the sides of the pitch and whilst both ends behind the goals were uncovered, that’s not really a problem when your attendances rarely reach five hundred.

The view from my seat.

The game was about to restart as I took my seat and I hadn’t missed any goals in the first half. The visitors, Yongin, were in all blue whilst Ansan or Ansan H to give them their full name were in white shirts and red shorts. They used to be Ansan Hallelujah until this season when in what seems like a crisis of faith they dropped everything bar the ‘H’ and removed the horizontal section of the cross from their shirts. Maybe they just got sick of waiting for some Divine Assistance.

Yongin on the attack.

There was a much smaller crowd at this game than there had been when I’d seen Ansan play on their practice pitch last year, although even if there had been twice as many fans the atmosphere still wouldn’t have been as good. The practice pitch has a small covered stand that runs the length of one side of the pitch. It was so full last year that my son and I had to stand at the back. A few drummers urging their team on and half a dozen kids playing in the long jump sand pit all added to that occasion.

That’s not to say that the Ansan fans who were there weren’t putting the effort in for this game. There were about a hundred and fifty of them, almost all in the main stand and with a small section making some noise. I suspect that a good few of them were American and brought up on basketball as one of the more popular chants was “Defense, defense”. If there were any Yongin fans around, I didn’t notice them.

Ansan fans

The game stayed goalless until fifteen minutes from the end when Yongin’s Kim Myeung Seon played a one-two on the edge of the box, took the return pass and finished well to put the visitors a goal up.  Ansan couldn’t respond and the one goal was enough. A bloke to my left applauded pretty enthusiastically at the end, so maybe there was someone there supporting Yongin after all.

He stopped clapping when he saw me taking his photograph.

I discovered later that Yongin had a player sent off in the first half and I’d watched the second half without realising that it was ten men against eleven. It wasn’t quite a Chris Kamara moment, but it was something that I probably should have spotted.

As far as the stats are concerned, Yongin moved into fourth place in the table. Ansan remained one spot off bottom. I ticked another ground off my list.

LG Twins v Hanwha Eagles, Thursday 3rd May 2012, 6.30pm

May 22, 2012

The weather is just about perfect for baseball at the beginning of May. A couple of weeks earlier and I’d have needed to have taken a coat, whilst a couple of weeks later and I’ll probably have to take a towel to mop up the sweat caused by doing nothing more strenuous than sitting still for three hours.

With such a short time when it’s just right I got myself along to Jamsil after work to watch LG Twins take on Hanwha Eagles. It was fairly busy outside, which surprised me a little as I didn’t really expect Hanwha to bring many fans or the game to be of much interest to the neutrals.

I didn’t have any success with the touts so just queued at the ticket window. I find it hard to believe how long it takes some people to make their mind up where they want to sit. It then took most of them just as long to decide how they wanted to pay, which was usually with a card that they only decided to look for after being asked for it. I’ve bought houses in less time than it took some of them to get a nine thousand won ticket.

I usually sit in the outfield but decided to go in the main stand for a change. My seat in block 330 was high enough up for me not to have to look through the netting and towards the edge of the Hanwha fans. There was a decent turnout in support of the Daejeon team, although I imagine that a lot of their fans will be living or working in Seoul.

A perfect evening for baseball.

It was the start of the second innings when I took my seat. Or rather found an empty one a little further over. My seat was occupied by one of a family group who must have just decided to sit wherever they fancied. Whatever, it was easier to find somewhere else than move them on, particularly as I doubted that it would be a sell-out.  I hadn’t missed much as the score was still nil-nil.

The Twins have had a bit of trouble with their pitchers this year with two of them, Kim Seong Hyun and Park Hyun Jun, getting close to a spell in chokey. They received suspended jail sentences and life-time bans for accepting bribes from gambling syndicates in return for deliberately walking players in the first innings. Still I suppose it means more game time for those that didn’t take a brown envelope home and in this game the beneficiary was Kim Kwang Sam.

Kim Kwang Sam – LG Twins

Yoo Chang Sik was the opening pitcher for Hanwha and like Kim Kwang Sam, he had a pretty good start. He struck out a couple of the home side in quick succession in the third and it was the fifth before he even gave up a hit.

Yoo Chang Sik – Hanwha Eagles

At the start of the sixth it was still scoreless. If you count nil-nil as scoreless that is. I suppose nobody had scored any runs, but there’s still a score. Anyway, the pitchers were on top but reaching that stage in the game where they were starting to tire. It’s a difficult call for the coaches as to when to pull them out, especially when no-one has even looked like getting a run. You don’t want call time too soon, but if you let them go on too long then they’ll suffer. It’s a bit like deciding when to get a dog put to sleep I suppose.

In the sixth innings Kim Kwang Sam found himself pitching to Kim Kyung Eon, with the bases loaded. The pitcher had already had a visit from the coach and catcher, but they had walked away without giving him that tap on the shoulder which signifies that you’re finished for the evening.

Kim Kyung Eon hit to second where the ball was fumbled. The mis-field was enough to allow the lad who had been on second,  Jang Sung Ho, to get home along with the fella who had been on third.

Jang Sung Ho slides home.

With the deadlock broken I went for a couple more beers. Whilst in the concourse I heard a big roar and when I got back to my seat Hanwha had doubled their lead to four-nil. That was the end of Kim Kwang Sam.

LG pulled a run back when it was their turn for their sixth innings. They had players on first and second bases when Lee Byung Kyu came to the plate. I noticed on the scoreboard that he was the captain of the Twins. Strange really, I’d not realised up until that point that baseball teams even have captains. They seem to have so much input from the coaches that I can’t really see what a captain would actually do. Lee Byung Kyu’s batting average looked pretty crap so I wondered if he was actually a bit of a Brearley. He did his bit with the bat though and managed to get a hit which got the lad on second base home to make it four-one.

With one man out in the eighth Hanwha brought their specialist ‘closing pitcher’ Denny Bautista. Apparently a closer is someone who can see a game out under pressure but can’t be arsed to pitch for a couple of hours from the start of a game.

Denny Bautista – Hanwha Eagles

Bautista has been around a bit, playing for a few Major League teams in America as well as plenty of minor ones. There’s probably a bit more pressure in MLB and so after that maybe closing a game for Hanwha doesn’t seem like too much of a big deal.

Bautista got off to a good start, striking a couple of players out. In the ninth though he found himself in the situation of having to pitch with the bases loaded, knowing that a hit over the fence at that point would snatch the game for LG and hasten the issue of his plane ticket home. Bautista held his nerve though and saw out the four-one victory.

Gimhae City v Yangju Citizen, Saturday 28th April 2012, 7pm

May 10, 2012

It’s second round of the FA Cup time in Korea and just like in England it’s the last set of ties before the big clubs come in. For third division teams like Gimhae and Yangju, a second round victory will be rewarded by a game against international players, possibly in one of the World Cup stadiums and (unless they draw Seongnam) a crowd considerably larger than they are used to playing in front of.

I’d made my way down to Gimhae earlier in the day to watch some baseball and afterwards got a lift into town from fellow Boro fan Alan who lives down that way. We stopped for something to eat at a traditional sit-on-the-floor seafood restaurant where I was able to compensate for my lack of flexibility by positioning myself with my back against the wall. The food was good though and as we were only in there for half an hour or so I was able to get to my feet unaided.

I’ve noticed that a lot of the old-fashioned places are cheating a bit. Some give you that much-appreciated back support by having chairs without legs. My favourite places take it a step further though and have a hole under the low table to dangle your legs into. A bit like those inspection pits that people used to have in their garages in the days when it was the done thing to fix your own car. I had a pit in the garage of one of my old houses. It was filled with old shoes for some reason though and so little use for car maintenance. Although as I’m not the sort of bloke who knows a crankshaft from a camshaft, it’s probably just as well.

Gimhae Civil Stadium

We arrived at the Gimhae Civil Stadium twenty minutes or so before kick-off. The surrounding area had been very busy and for a while we wondered if there would be a bigger crowd than normal. There wasn’t though. The crowds of people were there for a big event nearby.

It was a shame that more of them didn’t decide to watch some football as there was plenty of room. Gimhae Civil Stadium has an official capacity of thirty thousand and whilst it didn’t look that big to me, the hundred and twenty or so spectators were never going to have any worries about finding an empty seat.

There were four Gimhae ‘ultras’ to our right. They had marked their territory with material, although with nobody within thirty yards of them it seemed a little unnecessary. They very politely lifted the barriers for me when I had to pass them to go for a second half slash.

The Gimhae diehards.

Yangju had brought about fifteen fans with them from north of Seoul. It was an impressive effort as the club hadn’t put a supporters bus on for them and they had travelled independently. Like the Gimhae fans they kept their chanting and drumming going for most of the game.

The Yangju fans

Gimhae were wearing a sort of AC Milan kit, although the black stripes didn’t go all of the way up the front of the shirt. Yangju were dressed up as Norwich. The breakthrough came early as Gimhae went a goal up in the first couple of minutes. We were talking and not really paying attention so I couldn’t tell you what happened.

Yangju looked to be the better team in the remainder of the first half, but Gimhae could easily have gone two up against the run of play when they hit the post on the half-hour.

First half action.

At half time we got a firework display from the Yangju fans that lasted a good few minutes. Eventually there was an announcement on the tannoy telling them that fireworks weren’t allowed and asking that they didn’t light any more when the current ones had gone out. Maybe the Yangju fans struggle to understand the southern accent because they didn’t take the slightest notice. It was only when a bloke in a suit turned up and had a word that the fireworks stopped. Even then I suspect that it was more likely to be due to them having none left to light rather than a sudden grasping of the Gimhae twang.

Yangju celebrate only being a goal down at half time.

Gimhae picked up the pace a bit after the break and fifteen minutes into the second half they equalised with a shot from the edge of the box. As the second half drew to a close our attention drifted somewhat to the Boro game kicking off in England. I couldn’t get a live feed on my phone but at least the BBC updates every minute or so kept us in touch with whether or not our promotion hopes were still alive.

Extra time came and went for Gimhae and Yangju without any further goals and we went into a penalty shoot out. The Gimhae keeper managed to keep one of the Yangju penalties out whilst Gimhae scored all five to go through to the Third Round. I was expecting more of a celebration from the winners but they seemed quite laid back about it all. Perhaps a trip to one of the big teams isn’t something that they really fancy. Or maybe they are just cool fellas who don’t make a fuss about stuff.

That’s all folks.

As Alan was driving me towards Busan train station we got the update that confirmed Boro’s season was over. We’d taken it to the final game which is something that I’d have settled for last August but it’s still disappointing when even the slimmest of chances finally disappears. I’d booked an early morning train back to Seoul so picked a hotel as close to the station as I could. I had stayed at the Samil Hotel when Jen and I were in Busan last year and I couldn’t remember whether it was any good or not.

Samil Inn, Busan.

It wasn’t. Whilst it was cheap and handy, it smelt as if the room hadn’t been aired for months. Hopefully I’ll remember that next time.

Lotte Giants v Police, Saturday 28th April 2012, 1pm

May 8, 2012

This was another one of those baseball games in the Futures League and it featured Lotte Giants against the Police. Whilst it might seem a little odd to travel all the way to the other end of the country to watch what is essentially a reserve fixture, I was going to be in Gimhae anyway for an FA Cup second round football match later that day between two third division teams. So that’s ok then.

It was quite a journey. I caught the KTX from Seoul to Busan at half past eight in the morning, getting into Busan just after eleven. I then took the subway, changing at Seomyeon and Sasang, before ending up on the Busan Gimhae Light Rail Transit and travelling the twenty one stops and twenty four kilometres from one end of the monorail to the other.

At that point I was still a fair distance away from the stadium, but fortunately the taxi driver knew his baseball and my pronounciation of “Sangdong Yagu Jang” was close enough for him to understand where I wanted to go.

Sangdong is in the middle of nowhere, or rather it’s an area filled with mountains, timber merchants and judging by the smell, the odd pig farm. Twenty minutes and thirteen thousand won later the taxi dropped me off at Lotte Giants training ground. It looked as if they have an indoor facility the size of an aircraft hanger, plus the outdoor pitch that the game was taking place on.

Sangdong Stadium

The stadium was a bit of a disappointment. I’d been hoping that my visits to the Futures League would take me to run-down stadiums that had been left behind when the teams had moved on to somewhere bigger and newer. Or maybe even very well-kept smaller stadiums in nearby towns. What I got at Sangdong was similar to what I’d experienced at Daegu a couple of weeks before, a out-of-town practice facility with a small seating area. Perfectly fit for purpose, but just not what I was hoping for.

Giants v Police.

Sangdong was actually worse than Daegu’s Gyeongsan training base. At least the latter had seats that followed the shape of the pitch, albeit not too many. Sangdong had a sort of bus shelter high up behind the plate with four or five rows of seating. You could probably get about a hundred people or so into it. Initially I stood to one side and watched the game from there, before spotting an empty seat towards the back.

The bus shelter stand.

The crowd was typical of a reserve team fixture with a mixture of Lotte obsessives, WAGs and would-be WAGs, a dad or two keeping bored kids occupied and the odd fella who had travelled from three hundred miles away and who really should know better.

Despite being ten minutes or so late I hadn’t missed much. The Police scored five runs in the first innings, before being pegged back by three Lotte runs in the third. Four more runs in the seventh for the visitors made the game safe though and it finished up at 9-3 to the Police.

View from next to the Lotte dugout.

There seems to be less time taken between pitches and innings at this level and the whole thing was over in just over two and a half hours

Lotte Giants with the Police in the background.

My friend Alan had very kindly offered to pick me up after the game and I waited for him amongst the autograph hunters by the stadium entrance. One of the Police players was very popular and when I looked him up afterwards I discovered that it was Lotte Giants pitcher Jang Won Jun who is temporarily playing for the Police team whilst doing his national service. It turns out that I’d watched him start for Lotte against Doosan Bears at Jamsil last year.

Jang Won Jun

Once the team buses had left most of the remaining fans followed suit. A few diehards were still there though half an hour or so after the game had finished. One produced a brush to groom the security man’s guard dog whilst another had brought a cake for Lotte coach Kong Pill Sung. It wasn’t even his birthday. He very politely came outside though and posed for photos with them. A wise move really, you don’t want to piss off people who are hanging around a building entrance waiting for you. Just ask John Lennon about that one. I went back upstairs to watch a bit of batting practice.

Batting practice with the mountains in the background.

Overall it was an interesting afternoon, I got to see another bit of the country that I probably wouldn’t have visited otherwise and I picked up a few more pointers as to how baseball works outside of the KBO games. There might be fewer fans at the lower-level, but you get more dog grooming and cake.

Gayasan Hiking, Sunday 22nd April 2012.

May 3, 2012

I’ve not done very much hiking so far this year. Jen and I walked the last couple of sections of the Bukhansan Dulegil and there’s been the odd river walk on the way to a football game, but I haven’t been up a mountain since I went to Yongmunsan back in mid-January.

As I’m supposed to be going up Poland’s highest mountain in the summer when I’m over there for Euro 2012, I thought that it was about time to ease my legs back into it. Jen and I had been to Cheongdo to watch the bullfighting the previous day and when we had seen enough of that we got the train to Daegu. A taxi took us across the city to the Seobu bus terminal and from there we caught a bus to Haeinsa in the Gayasan National Park. The bus goes every forty minutes, costs 6,600 won and takes about an hour and a half.

Seobu bus terminal.

It was raining as we arrived at Chi-in village and we made for the nearest motel. There were a few of them around so I reckon that even in the height of the walking season it would be likely that you would find somewhere to stay.

Our place was ok, the main drawback being that not only would the outer door to the room not lock, it wouldn’t always stay closed. I wasn’t too bothered as it didn’t seem as if there was anyone else staying there. Later on Jen spotted a list at reception that not only showed which rooms were occupied, but how many people were in them. We had the lowest occupation rate with just the two of us, whilst other rooms had as many as eight people crammed into them.

That’s it on the left.

There were a few restaurants and we selected one that specialised in various produce from the surrounding hillsides. Radishes, ferns, bracken, surplus foliage from root vegetables, weeds, that sort of thing. There was an ungutted grilled fish and some soup with bits of tofu in it. On the plus side we got a pancake and a couple of beers with it.

It was quite cold in there but as we were the only customers we got to sit next to the stove. On top of the stove was an extremely large pot full of water. I wasn’t sure if they were heating it up to make us some tea or to bath their dog.

Just in case you wondered what a stove looks like.

Next morning the rain had stopped and it was a pretty good day for hiking.  We set off early in the direction of Haeinsa temple with the intention of walking past it and then onwards to the 1,430m Sangwangbong. It’s about five kilometres to the top and with Haeinsa being around six hundred metres above sea level, it’s a not too steep eight hundred metres or so ascent.

Haeinsa is famous amongst Buddhists for its temple which has a load of wooden printing blocks from the olden days. Jen has been there before and they made her peek through a gap in the wall to see them, so it’s maybe not the most tourist friendly of places. That didn’t seem to stop coachloads of them turning up though and by the time we reached Haeinsa it was already busy.

I’m not overly fussed about old wooden blocks and so we left them to those who were. The trail towards the summit was the quietest we’ve ever experienced. We spotted a monk out for a stroll early on and then after that we didn’t see anyone at all until we were within about twenty metres of the top. There’s an alternative route up from the Baengundong park entrance and most people must have been following that trail. We did think about going down that way but we didn’t know if we would be able to get a bus or not.

A monk.

Three hours after setting out we were on top of Sangwangbong. For a few minutes we were the only people up there before someone very handily turned up to take our photo.

It’s been a while since we had a summit photo.

There were decent views to the south with rows of mountain ranges disappearing into the distance.

I think I took this one a bit further down, but the view was similar.

The route was busier on the way down as we passed hiking groups and families who hadn’t made the early start that we had. Two hours later we were at the bottom and having a late lunch of beef and mushroom soup in a restaurant next to the bus stop.

Timetable for buses from Haeinsa.

Gayasan is another one of those places that I’d like to go back to, next time taking the route from Baengundong that goes past Yonggi Falls and then on to the 1,433m Chilbulbong peak, before descending via Sangwangbong to Haeinsa. It’s still only about ten kilometres in total and it looks as if the best way to do that one is to get off the Haeinsa bus a bit earlier at Gajo and then take a taxi to the Baengundong entrance.

And for what it’s worth, my legs knacked for days afterwards.

Bullfighting at Cheongdo, Saturday 21st April 2012

May 3, 2012

It’s only a couple of months since I was at a proper bullfight in Spain. The Korean version is a little different though. In Spain, the bull and matador will go through a pre-determined series of moves designed to test the strength and courage of the bull and the skills of the matador. It’s not a contest though and the only uncertainty will be how long it will take the matador to dispatch the bull when the time comes.

In Korea, it’s a real contest with two bulls going ‘horn to horn’ until one runs away and the only thing injured is the pride of the losing bull’s owner. You can even bet on the outcome. Try doing that in Madrid.

I’d been to Cheongdo to watch the bullfighting a couple of years ago and I thought that it was an interesting spectacle. Jen hadn’t ever got around to visiting a Korean bullfight and so we thought we’d go along. We caught the KTX from Seoul to Daegu and then the Mugungwha from Daegu to Cheongdo. The Mugungwha trains are the slowest ones and are similar to the trains that we called Boggies in the seventies, but they often travel the length of the country rather than just between nearby towns. Fortunately we only had a half hour journey or so.

On the Mugungwha to Cheongdo.

Five minutes before we arrived at Cheongdo station we passed the arena where the bullfighting would take place. It didn’t look much different from how it had been on my previous visit, but it has been massively improved from the venue that hosted the event a few years before that. If you have ever seen pictures of one of those big boxing fights from the late nineteen century, well it used to look just like that. A ring in the middle of nowhere with blokes stood on grassy slopes craning their necks for a better view. Slightly fewer top hats and twirly moustaches than at the nineteen century boxing, but otherwise very similar.

That’s it, over there.

We took a taxi from the station to the arena. It didn’t seem as busy as last time when people had been abandoning their cars by the side of the road rather than wait in the traffic jam. Perhaps the rain had been putting people off. It was free to get in, another change from last time when I think four thousand won was the price of a ticket. Four thousand won for everyone not born in the Year of the Ox, that is. I’m a Dragon apparently, so the concession hadn’t been of any benefit to me. I’ll have to keep an eye out for the dragon fighting festival I suppose.

We went straight up to the arena and caught the end of one of the fights. It’s really just a case of getting the bulls to engage and then watching as they try to push each other backwards until one of them turns around and runs away. Sometimes it’s over in a few seconds, other times it could go on for half an hour or more if you have two bulls that don’t realise what it takes to go home early and get back to doing whatever it is that bulls do during the week.

I’d expected a bigger crowd.

That first fight concluded a few moments after we got there. Last time I’d been here it had been a one hundred and twenty eight bull knock-out tournament, with the bulls who advanced to the latter stages no doubt increasing their stud value. The losers in the early round went home with a trophy, but with a greater prospect of ending up as corned beef. This time though, the bouts were staged as ‘one-off’ contests.

Coaching was permitted.

We watched some more bouts after lunch with the main interest coming from the betting. We eventually worked out that there were a few options, including a combination bet where you selected the winner and the duration of the contest. There was a free form guide from which we learned that the fights are no longer limited to the once a year festival, but take place each weekend. I suppose you have to make your own entertainment in the countryside.

The simplest bet was a straight ‘to win’ selection in each fight, although it was complicated by a third option that we couldn’t quite understand. Both bulls were usually odds-on, with the third option generally around thirty to one. A draw seemed unlikely, so perhaps the value bet was on them refusing to fight and choosing to dance a Paso Doble instead.

The last moment dash to place a bet.

We didn’t stay for too long in the afternoon. I picked two winners from the two contests that I gambled on and both bulls, despite not being the favoured option in the betting, were heavily odds on. The small stakes meant that it just about covered the taxi fare back to Cheongdo station.