Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

Lynchburg Hillcats v Wilmington Blue Rocks , Friday 14th June 2019, 6pm

June 24, 2019

After the Mets game it was time to start what I regarded as the proper holiday. The plan was to drive down to Louisiana and Mississippi to see Jen’s family and then get back up to New York for the boat trip back. We had thirty days before embarkation and had plotted a route that took us along the Blue Ridge Highway to the Smoky  Mountains, then on to Nashville and Memphis before heading south for a few days  prior to a mad dash back for the boat.

We started with a couple of nights in Shenandoah National Park, staying in the nineteenth century paymasters cabin. Bedding must have been in short supply in the olden days as we had to use the sleeping bags that we’d brought for the nights when we’d be camping.

The big advantage of the park though was that the Appalachian Trail went past our cabin and so we had easy hiking options that didn’t require us to find a starting point. First day we hiked north and didn’t see very much at all in the woods. Second day we started earlier for the southern option and were rewarded with a deer, a few chipmunks and something in the undergrowth that was probably a groundhog.

After a drive along the skyline we spent the next two nights camping at Big Meadows in Virginia. This was also on the Appalachian trail and we hiked a circular route that detoured to Hollow Falls before rejoining the trail for the last section back to the campground.

Jen was walking in front as we turned a corner to discover a mid-sized black bear stretched out in the sun on a rock no more than about six feet ahead of us. It had probably been asleep but was quickly wide awake, frantically crashing through the bushes to get away from us. I’m not sure which of the three of us got the biggest shock but I now know that Jen’s go to expletive in times of high stress is “Holy Fuck!”.

I’m pleased to say that over the past nine years, I don’t recall doing anything to trigger that particular response. The bear paused briefly about fifteen yards away to stare at us, no doubt muttering something similar to itself, before ambling off into the woods.

Back at the campground we discovered a second bear wandering around close to our tent. This one was much smaller and probably less than two years old. It didn’t seem interested in us, preferring to spend its time digging up roots. If we got close it would move away, occasionally grabbing a tree trunk but never bothering to climb up. At one point it halfheartedly chased a deer that got too close but I think they both knew that the gesture was more for show. After an hour or so a warden turned up with an air horn and what looked like a paintball gun to chase the bear away into the woods.

Our next stop took us out of the mountains for a couple of days and into Lynchburg. This gave us the opportunity to take in a minor league baseball game at the City Stadium.

I’d booked the seats online a few months earlier, opting for the $8 unreserved ‘bleacher’ seating mainly for the flexibility of being able to choose who I sat near to. If I’d wanted, I could have had a seat behind the plate for $15, but I’m not overly keen on looking through netting. It’s like those sensors or what ever in a car windscreen. Once you’ve noticed it, it’s hard to filter it back out again.

Our tickets were easily collected from the ‘Will Call’ line at the ticket office. I didn’t even need to show ID, just told them who I was and the bloke behind the counter readily handed them over.  As we made our way into the stadium we were given pink tee shirts as part of a mammogram awareness campaign and then a bag each for putting them in. It all seemed a lot for an $8 dollar ticket.

Once inside, we chose ‘bleacher’ seats at third base, just beyond the netting and in the shade. Best seats in the house in my opinion. There were plenty of bars selling beer at less than half the price than at the Mets the previous week, but I was driving this time so wasn’t able to take advantage.

Local side Hillcats were supporting the mammogram campaign with one-off pink player jerseys that were being auctioned off after the game. This fixture was the sixth in a run of eight consecutive daily meetings in the Carolina League between the two sides. The visitors, Wilmington Blue Rocks, had been having the better season but had struggled in the recent head-to heads.

A lot of the crowd seemed to know each other, although I’d expect exactly that in the UK at a lower level football game with a smallish attendance. There were a few college kids in who gave the impression that it might have been their first night ever on the drink, but we’ve all been there.

As we reached the sixth innings Jen and I moved around to the seats at first base for a different vantage point. This coincided with the sunning starting to set and for a while, until the full benefit of the floodlights kicked in, I thought the twilight conditions were a significant disadvantage to everyone other than the pitcher.

Our move coincided with the opening of the scoring, with the Blue Rocks scoring two runs in the sixth, before the Hillcats countered with one of their own.  A third run for the visitors in the eighth was enough to clinch the win.

Overall it was a much better evening out than the Mets game had been. Warmer weather, cheaper prices and a smaller, more traditional ground all outweighed the drop in playing standards that I’m not experienced enough to notice anyway.

New York Mets v Colorado Rockies, Saturday 8th June 2019, 7.15pm

June 14, 2019

It’s a while since I’ve been to a sporting event, the last one being a football game in Spain three months ago. There has been stuff going on in Malaysia but with it being so hot and with Ramadan kicking in, the matches haven’t been starting until 10pm and that’s too late for me. Shame really, as ex-Boro player Herold Goulon was in town recently with his Pahang team. I’d seen him play for the reserves at Central Avenue  a few years ago and thought it might be worth seeing how he was doing these days, but my curiosity wasn’t enough to justify a midnight finish.

It will be unlikely that I’ll see any more Malaysian sport now as I’ve finished my contract at the power station. Three years was enough to see whatever I wanted to in the region and I’m gambling that after a bit of a break I’ll be able to pick something up closer to home. My daughter and grandkids came out for a holiday before we left and we took a trip over to Sarawak to get up close to the proboscis monkeys and wild pigs.

proboscus monkey

After flying back and making full use of everybody’s luggage allowance Jen and I set off for a holiday in the States. I’d not been since we got married in 2013 and so felt it was time to catch up with her family and see a bit more of the place. To make it more of a trip we went by boat from Southampton, a seven night crossing on the Queen Mary 2.

Queen Mary 2

I really enjoyed doing very little for a week. Internet access was slow and expensive so I barely bothered with it. Instead, I wandered around the deck and rounded off my evenings in the cigar lounge in the company of Roy Walker. I didn’t get around to seeing his show but he’s a very nice fella to smoke Cubans with and not at all ‘big-time’.

We were late into New York after diverting to Canada to drop off a passenger who wasn’t well. This meant that we arrived in the daylight rather than before dawn. Disembarkation was slow and so we spent a couple of hours on the deck loungers watching the river traffic on the Hudson go about their business.

Statue of liberty

Our first couple of US nights were in Long Island. I liked that it wasn’t full of tourists. I’m a tourist, but I’m happy to avoid the bustle of others if I can. It didn’t take long to get into Manhattan on the subway and so were were able to catch up with Jen’s brother and sister who live there whilst I walked around with my head tilted back in classic tourist pose looking up at the skyscrapers.

empire state building

I’d booked tickets for the Mets baseball a few months ago, but was spoiled for choice when the day came. GGG was fighting at Madison Square Garden and there was a big race meeting at the Belmont Horse Track. I’d probably have preferred the boxing but thought I might as well stick to the original plan rather than waste the $51 tickets.

We took the subway to Citi Field and had a wander around outside the stadium. Our seats were in the Bullpen section which is around by second base. It was fairly busy getting in but our phone tickets were scanned successfully and we were carrying nothing that attracted the attention of the security blokes.

citi field

Once inside, I headed for the beer queue. It was a short queue mainly because they wanted a minimum of eleven dollars for a beer. That’s about nine quid. I’m on my holidays though so we ordered a couple of twelve dollar Stellas to be greeted with “Do you have ID, Sir?”

As I’m fifty-four I rarely get asked for proof of age these days and I didn’t have anything suitable with me. Fortunately the lady behind the bar suggested that I get someone else to buy it for me and the person behind was happy to go through the pointless charade of taking my money, handing it to the bartender and then completing the reverse process with our drinks. After all the fuss I was happy to settle for the single round.

citi field concourse

Our seats were in the middle tier, but with it being a sharp incline we seemed close to the action.  I was surprised by how many empty seats there were though. It filled up over the first hour but there always seemed to be as many fans in the concourses as there were in the stands. It wasn’t helped by the chilly weather though or by the wind blowing through the seats.

citi field second tier

Whilst I’ve seen a lot of baseball, this was my first Major League game. To be honest, I wasn’t that impressed.  The balance between bat and ball seemed out of kilter with only the one decent hit in the time we were there. Too many of the pitches were top-edged into the crowd behind. The pitchers slowed the entertainment down by opting all too frequently to try and run out batters already on bases who were attempting to sneak a yard. Just get on with it.

One of the best things about the game was that the pitchers have to have a bat. None of that replacing with a pinch hitter nonsense. One had a really low average but was happy to have a slog which is what I’d have hoped all the batters would be doing.

citi field

Long before the end we’d had enough. A combination of little in the way of action, the arse on of obtaining an expensive beer and the cold wind blasting around us meant that we cut the evening short in the fifth innings with the Mets a run ahead. They added another after we’d left for a 5-3 win. In hindsight I should have gone to the boxing.

Brothers v Guardians, Saturday 21st April 2018, 5.05pm

May 21, 2018

The first weekend after returning from Europe we headed off to Taiwan. It’s more than four hours flying time from Kuala Lumpur, but that doesn’t seem such a big deal after the thirteen hour flights to and from London.

First up was the baseball game at the Xinzhuang stadium between the Brothers and the Guardians. It’s the home stadium of the Guardians but baseball for some reason, lists the away team first. We’d booked a hotel just around the corner and so had no more than a short walk to the ballpark. We spotted a few black squirrels scampering around that looked larger than the grey squirrels in the UK.

As we approached the ticket office I was still in two minds as to where to sit. My preference is usually for the free-seating outfield seats, the ‘bleachers’ as they are known in America. It’s mainly because I’m anti-social and want the option of sitting apart from my fellow spectators if they are making a nuisance of themselves. Although I’ve also an aversion to watching a game through a protective net and by sitting far enough away I can get an unobstructed, if somewhat distant, view.

However, it looked like rain was in the air and so I had to consider whether to go for something in the main stand that was undercover. In the end, my preference for being as far away from other people made the bleachers worth the risk and so we paid 250 dollars (six quid) each for outfield seats.

It turned out to be the right decision as the rain held off all evening. In fact, in hindsight, the cloud cover might have been smog rather than a potential downpour. We’d seen a fair bit of industry on the way in, which didn’t surprise me as when I was a kid it seemed as if everything made from plastic had been produced in Taiwan. So, bad for the lungs I suppose, but less need for an umbrella.

As I was unsure as to what refreshments would be available I brought a selection of beers in with me. Some of it was local, but I also played safe with stocks of a couple of Japanese beers. I usually plump for Asahi in these situations but on this occasion I supplemented the ‘Gold Medal’ Taiwan Beer with Kirin and Sapporo instead. I thought the local stuff tasted a little soapy, which I doubt very much is the flavour that they were striving for.

We’d selected our seats well as most of the visiting racket came from the section on the other side of the scoreboard. They had drums, a brass section and a megaphone or two. The singing section for the home fans was up to our left in the covered stand. Far enough away to be of minimal disturbance.

There were a few home fans near to us who piped up later in the game, but it was easy enough for us to shift along a block or two for a different and quieter vantage point.

The Brothers, who were wearing a mismatched grey kit that looked as if the trousers had been washed on a hot setting a lot more frequently than the shirts, took a 9-0 lead. There was a brief fight back from the Guardians that I thought might let them make a game of it, but in the end the Brothers ran out convincing 15-4 winners.

Lamigo Monkeys v Elephant Brothers, Saturday 9th September 2017, 5.05pm

November 8, 2017

I’ve not been to the baseball for a while, or at least to a proper game. Jen and I went to a game in Darwin a couple of years ago that turned out to be little more than a knockabout and an excuse for a picnic. I’m not even sure that they kept score. As it’s more than four years since we left Korea, it must be that long since we’ve seen a baseball game. Never mind, a brief visit to Taiwan gave us the chance to put things right.

The baseball was actually a fallback option as the trip had been primarily to see a football game. However the Taiwan Premier League appears to be less organised than the lower divisions of the Stockton Sunday League and the game that we’d planned to see had been shunted, with minimal publicity, a couple of hundred miles to the other end of the island.

Whatever, an evening at the baseball makes a fine alternative and so we took a taxi to the Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium. The area around the stadium was as busy as the roads on the way there had been and fans milled around the perimeter, making their way to the various gates.

We did an entire lap before finding the ticket office and after weighing up whether the home or away sections would be emptier we opted for outfield seats on the Monkey side of the bleachers. I can’t remember how much it cost to get in and the ticket doesn’t really make it clear. It might have been 350 Taiwanese dollars, which is about nine quid. Alternatively, that 350 figure might have been a block number or something. Sorry.

We got inside early in the first innings and found seats in an emptyish area towards the back. The section gradually filled up as the game went on with a mixture of families, couples and small groups of friends. I hadn’t been sure of the rules about bringing drink in and so hadn’t brought any beer with me. My gamble paid off though as I was able to buy reasonably cold cans of something that turned out to be made by OB, a Korean brewer. Or at least under licence from them. It seemed quite appropriate for the baseball and took me back a few years to the evenings spent at Jamsil.

Elephant Brothers had a few hundred fans to our left making a decent racket and overall the seventeen thousand attendance was pretty impressive. I’d forgotten most of the nuances of the sport and a fair proportion of the rules but it didn’t really matter. I’m happy just to sit with a beer as the sun goes down and wait for someone to twat the ball over the fence.

The visitors took the lead in the second innings and after being pegged back regained the advantage in the seventh. Lamingo Monkeys levelled in the eighth at 3-3 and then nicked a winner. I think they are having the better season of the two teams but I could be wrong. Fifty percent chance that I am.

As the game drew to a close we were turfed out of our seats by stewards who I think were setting up for a post-game concert and firework show. We watched the final balls from the posh seats down the side before nipping out and having the good fortune to quickly find a cab. All in all, it was very similar to going to the baseball in Korea and that’s a good thing.

Pint Green Sox v Tracy Village Rebels, Friday 1st April 2016, 7pm

July 3, 2016

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Baseball! In Australia!

I developed a liking for baseball when I lived in Seoul. I can’t claim to be an expert, it was more the relaxing in the cheap seats as the sun went down that I enjoyed. I’d drink some beers, eat some cheese and wait for someone to twat the ball hard enough for it to clear the fence.

It’s doubtful that baseball has much of a following in Australia, it’s a country where rugby league and ‘Aussie Rules’ football tend to dominate, but I thought a game in the local league would be worth a look.

It had been a pretty good week leading up to the game as Jen and I had spent the four-day Easter weekend at Kakadu National Park. It’s probably the highlight of the Northern Territories and features on the itineraries of most Australian tours. We only live a couple of hours away from the park but a combination of working six days a week and the lack of a car meant that it had taken us six months to get around to paying it a visit.

We went for a walk on the first evening along the Angaardabal Billabong trail and were rewarded with the sight of three dingoes crossing the path in front of us. Seeing dingoes in the wild was something that was on my Australian ‘wish list’ and something that we hadn’t managed previously. If only we’d had a few snacks with us to tempt them over.

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Next morning we followed the same path in the hope of seeing them again but our luck was out. We did see a wallaby sat watching us from the long grass and even though I’m sure it would have been a decent snack for a pack of dingoes, it wasn’t enough to tempt them in.

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The highlight of that morning walk was a big spider. I’m not sure what type so I resisted the urge to poke it. Our five-year old grandson Harry has a liking for spiders at the moment and seems convinced that almost all Australian spiders are Huntsman spiders. I’m not knowledgeable enough to contradict him.

We recently bought Harry a real stuffed tarantula. I’m not sure how easy it is to stuff a tarantula, not very easy at all I suspect, but it looks very impressive. He was very pleased with it, although I think his mother was less impressed. Soph rolled her eyes on seeing it, no doubt anticipating the future panic at school during ‘Show and Tell’.

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Whilst in Kakadu we hiked up Nourlangie Rock. It was hard work, not so much because of the distance or the gradient, but more due to the heat and humidity. There were good views once we got above the trees but the bit I enjoyed the most was just lying down on a flat shaded rock and letting the breeze cool me down in a way that I suspect people have been doing at that very spot for thousands of years.

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Coming down was easier and after almost walking into the web of a spider similar to the one we’d seen a couple of days earlier, we paused for a while to watch a lizard sunning itself.

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On the road to Nourlangie we spotted a bush pig. Not a live one, but a road-kill one. I doubt it had been dead for very long, but it was already starting to swell in the heat. The photo isn’t too good because of some condensation on the lens, but it gives you an idea of the size of the creature. I doubt the car that hit it came out of the collision well.

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Whilst driving back to Darwin at the end of the weekend we stopped at a crocodile jumping place. They take you out onto a river in a boat and then dangle pieces of meat over the side to tempt the crocodiles to jump up and take them. I’m not sure how ethical that sort of thing is conservation-wise, but we enjoyed it and I’d bet that the crocs did too.

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And so to the baseball. It was a pre-season opener at Tracy Village between the previous year’s Grand Finalists Pint Green Sox and Tracy Village Rebels. A sort of Community Shield if you like, for those of you that appreciate an English football comparison, but a Community Shield for pub sides in a local league.

Entry was free. I’ve no idea if this was because it wasn’t a league game, or whether it’s always free. Perhaps it was because both teams were missing most of their first team players as a consequence of holidays, work commitments or something decent being on the telly.

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Most people had brought their own camping chairs and were socialising over a picnic with fellow fans that they may not have seen since the Grand Final. I reckon that there were probably around a hundred and twenty spectators dotted around the field enjoying the catch-up.

We were less well prepared seating-wise, but fortunately there was a small three-row covered seating area where we could watch from behind the plate.

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It must have been the first visit to Australian baseball for the Korean couple sat next to us. They grumbled at the poor standard for a while before clearing off. I sympathised with them, as I’d seen Sunday morning games between friends down by the River Han that were of much higher quality than this effort.

The Aussie bloke in front of us commented that the first pitcher had “an arm like my Nanna” and I doubt he was exaggerating. On the rare occasions when the ball didn’t hit the ground before reaching the batter it was just as likely to bounce off his helmet.

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None of the innings lasted for long, despite all of the bases being occupied on occasions by batters who had been walked. We stuck it out for an hour with the Rebels well in front, but as there wasn’t a scoreboard  I couldn’t tell you by how many. Sorry Eric.

It was a world away from watching Doosan Bears or LG Twins at Jamsil.

NC Dinos v Hanwha Eagles, Tuesday 7th May 2013, 6.30pm

May 21, 2013

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There’s a new KBO team this season, NC Dinos. So far I hadn’t seen them play a home game but as I’m now finished with work in Korea, Jen and I took a Tuesday afternoon KTX down to Masan to put that right. We changed at Dongdaegu although that might not actually have been necessary as Jen spotted later that there are direct trains between Seoul and Masan. Perhaps we just got off one direct service and then caught the next direct train twenty minutes later.

Whatever, we got to Masan around four thirty, checked into the Prima Hotel next to the station and walked the half hour or so route to the baseball stadium.

That's the edge of the football ground on the left.

That’s the edge of the football ground on the left.

The Dinos were playing Hanwha Eagles in an eighth v ninth place clash. As there are only nine teams in the league the fixtures between these two teams will go a long way in determining Korea’s crappiest baseball team. At the moment it’s Hanwha who hold that somewhat dubious privilege.

We paid eight thousand won for outfield tickets and took our seats amongst the other four thousand or so spectators. NC Dinos have been in a bit of trouble with the KBO as apparently one of the conditions stipulated prior to them joining the league was that they would build a new bigger stadium. The thing is though, their current place is pretty smart and if you are only filling a quarter of your seats why do you need something even larger?

It looked good enough to me.

It looked good enough to me.

Jen had her bag searched on the way in for ‘alcohol or sharp objects’. Oddly they didn’t bother with mine despite me having a couple of litres of wine brazenly on show in the outer pockets. When we got inside the security fellas were strictly enforcing the rule that the only alcohol you could drink was the beer sold at the concession stands. Now whilst this would seem perfectly normal in the UK, it seems an outrageous restriction in Korea where everybody routinely turns up at sporting events with as much booze as they like.

The security men would carefully watch from a distance and on spotting anything suspicious would swoop like hawks and confiscate whatever they found.

Soju Police.

Soju Police.

The starting pitchers were a fella called Shirek for the Dinos and someone called Eveland for Hanwha. I’d look them up and tell you which MLB team they made two pre-season appearances for in 2006 but I can’t be arsed. I’m not in Korea for much longer and so I doubt I’ll ever see or hear about either of them again.

Dinos v Eagles.

Dinos v Eagles.

A big hit in th second innings was enough to get a lad home from second base for Hanwha. The same thing happened on the next ball to put them two runs up. NC pulled one back in their second innings with more of the same, one bounce into the fence and the bloke on second getting home.

At that stage I’d already worked my way through a fair bit of the two litres of wine and so I stopped paying quite as much attention to the score.  It started to get quite cold as well, although it seems like its been that way at the baseball all season. Gates are down a third on this time last year and I can‘t help thinking that it’s because it has been so bloody cold. Baseball’s a game for short sleeved shirts not coats and jumpers.

A blanket seems so wrong for baseball too.

A blanket seems so wrong for baseball too.

By the time we got to the sixth one of the teams was 4-3 up. Two and a half hours of drinking in the cold was enough for us though and we headed off for some warmth and some fresh supplies. I didn’t get around to checking the next day to see who won despite the importance of the game in the battle for eighth place. The information is out there though if you care.

One more scoreboard photo.

One more scoreboard photo.

And that I think is it for me and Korean baseball for the time being. I’d never seen a game before I came to Korea but quickly came to appreciate the merits of sitting in the outfield in the late evening sunshine with a drink in my hand. I’ve even got a fair grasp of the rules although I doubt I’ll ever appreciate the nuances of the game in that way that someone brought up playing it would.

I don’t mind though, I’ve had a great time unwinding at Jamsil on an evening after work and travelling the country to watch games in more than twenty different stadiums. If I do come back to Korea then I’ll defintely try to get around a few more.

Hanwha Eagles v SK Wyverns, Friday 3rd May 2013, 1pm

May 9, 2013

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I came to Korea in March 2010 to work on an engineering and construction project. The plant is built now and Thursday 2nd May was my last day at work. It’s possible that my next job might be in Korea too, but in the way that things work in my industry I won’t know for a while.

In the meantime Jen and I decided to hang on in Korea for a week or two and take the opportunity to fill our days with reserve team baseball in the middle of nowhere. It’s what you’d all do given the chance. Right?

Hanwha Eagles play their Futures League games at the Seosan Baseball Training Centre. Or at least some of them. I watched their first team play a pre-season friendly at Cheongju a couple of years ago and I’m fairly sure that they use that stadium now and again too.

We took a de-luxe bus from Seoul Central City terminal. For those of a statistical mind, it left at 10.20am, covered the 127km in an hour and fifty minutes and cost 10,800 won. From Seosan bus terminal we took a cab to the baseball centre. The taxi driver knew straightaway where we wanted to go once Hanwha Eagles were mentioned. I think a mime of swinging a baseball bat might just have been enough.

There are hills all around.

There are hills all around.

The players were on the field stretching when we arrived. A few of them shouted “Hello” and “How are you?”. We just needed “You are handsome gentleman!” to complete the set.

There were thirty people or so watching, I didn’t see any WAGs which is unusual at these games, there were a couple of families but it was mainly single blokes. Whenever a ball went into the stand, whoever caught it would keep it. That’s a long-standing tradition at the proper KBO games, but at this level it’s generally tossed back.

Seosan Baseball Training Centre.

Seosan Baseball Training Centre.

Both teams rattled through their innings quickly, but by the end of the fifth it was still 0-0 with starting pitchers Lee Seok Jae and Song Chang Hyun having given up just the two hits apiece at that stage.

SK broke the deadlock in the seventh when with the bases loaded a hit to mid-field allowed two of them to get home.

The scoreboard.

The scoreboard.

We left them to it shortly after that as we had to catch a bus to go and do some hiking. On the way out we were given a ball of our own by one of the players who wasn‘t taking part. I’m a bit old for that sort of thing so passed it on to a small kid on the subway the next day.

Another two runs were scored after we left with SK eventually winning 3-1.

Police v NC Dinos, Saturday 27th April 2013, 1pm

May 5, 2013

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I’d looked into going to watch the Police baseball team last year, but it seemed to be a complicated place to get to so I went to see Goyang Wonders instead. Eventually though, if you are going to try to see all of the teams in the second tier Futures League, then you’ve got to make a bit more of an effort.

For me, making more of an effort generally involves asking Jen to find out how to get there and so that’s what I did.

She worked out that if we got the subway to Dongsan Station and came out of Exit 8 then we could catch the 1082 bus to within a couple of hundred yards of the Police place at Byukje. It worked fine, made easier by the Naeyu Dong Bus Terminal that we got off at being the final stop on the route.

This is the bus you want.

This is the bus you want.

With it being a Police training place the entrance was guarded. We got in simply by telling the bloke in the hut that we were there for the baseball. We weren’t asked for ID and given passes as I had been at the Army base when I saw a game there. Perhaps the Police don’t think that baddies would use the baseball as a cover story.

"Halt, who goes there?"

“Halt, who goes there?”

The Police were taking on Changwon NC Dinos. We got talking to a couple of old fellas who were wearing Dinos gear. One of them introduced the other as “Mr. Park, the former manager of the LG Twins”.

Whilst a backroom job with a new Futures League team seems a big step down, I bet he sleeps a lot easier these days. We chatted for a while and learned that the game we’d been planning to go to the following week wouldn’t be taking place after all. That’s one fewer wasted trip.

The main stand.

The main stand.

There were around forty fans sat in the bus shelter sized main stand. There wasn’t really anywhere else that you could watch the game from as the outfield fence was too high to see over.

The view from behind the plate.

The view from behind the plate.

NC opened the scoring with two runs in the second innings. Or inning as I’m told it should be. The Dinos players looked a lot younger than the Police opposition. One or two looked as if they should still be in school.

The crowd.

The crowd.

The Police fought back with seven runs in the third inning(s). One came from a batter being ‘non-deliberately’ walked, if you know what I mean, two came from a misfield and the rest came from the pitcher being tonked all around the field.

For the scorebard aficionado.

For the scorebard aficionado.

NC pulled one back in the fifth to make it 7-3 but that’s as much as we saw as we had a football game to get to on the other side of Goyang. I had a look later and the Police ended up winning 10-6. Better luck next time, Mr. Park.

Doosan Bears v SK Wyverns, Wednesday 3rd April 2013, 6.30pm

April 10, 2013

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The baseball started up again a few days ago and so on Wednesday night I got myself along to Jamsil for my first game of the season. Or rather, my first Korean baseball game of the season.

I’ve been out of the country for the past couple of weeks, although this time it was for a holiday to America rather than the usual business trip to Oman. As you might have expected Jen and I went to a few sporting events including baseball games at LSU and New Orleans Zephyrs plus an NBA basketball game at New Orleans Hornets. We even managed a trip to the races.

As well as watching stuff we also had a couple of days hiking around the Grand Canyon and another at Red Rocks. We called into Las Vegas too where we got married at a drive-thru chapel. We didn’t even have to get out of the car, just wind the window down, exchange vows and then drive off. Whilst it’s probably not everyone’s dream to be married in a Toyota Corolla hire car, it suited us fine.

So, since it’s my blog I’ll do the now familiar ‘What I did on my holidays’ digression from the subject of the post and then eventually get back to the Bears v Wyverns. I’ll start with the hiking first, partly because it was so good, but mainly because it’s what we did first.

It’s not far from Vegas to Red Rocks and so we spent half a day just wandering around inside whatever National Park it is. The place was virtually empty and we were able to just saunter around, clambering on rocks that I felt guilty about standing on and then follow a trail through areas where I couldn’t stop grinning at the beauty of it all.

Not sure what it is, probably a big wasp's nest or something.

Not sure what it is, probably a big wasp’s nest or something.

Good as Red Rocks was though, it wasn’t a match for the Grand Canyon. We got there late in the evening and walked eastwards along the South Rim for an hour or so, before getting up before dawn the next day to see the sunrise and then hike ten miles in the other direction.

Upon arriving at a suitable vantage point for the sunrise we found we’d been beaten to it by a busload of Korean tourists. There’s a surprise. It was quiet enough fifty yards further along though. We didn’t manage to hike down into the canyon but it’s on the list and we’ll be back.

It's just as well that my Mam doesn't read this blog.

It’s just as well that my Mam doesn’t read this blog.

It was no surprise that the NBA fixture between New Orleans Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies was a step up in quality from the games I’ve been watching at Jamsil. The home side fell behind early on but rallied in the second quarter to take a lead which they managed to hang on to until the end.

We had VIP seats courtesy of Jen’s brother Jeff who is a bigwig with the New Orleans baseball team and we had a very good time with him and his missus. The evening was rounded off by free peanut butter sandwiches, a nightly tradition at the hotel we were staying at. As ever, I’ve made a mental note for the day when I end up as a tramp.

Hornets v Grizzlies.

Hornets v Grizzlies.

The horse racing at the New Orleans Fairgrounds track was good fun too. With a mixture of dirt and turf races we just about broke even due to Jen picking a few winners. I’d been to Santa Anita in Los Angeles a few years ago but this was a much smaller set up. The crowd was pretty small too despite it being free admission. Perhaps most people were waiting until the Louisiana Derby the following weekend.

And they're off!!

And they’re off!!

So, the baseball. We saw two games, the first a University game between LSU and Auburn at the Alex Box Stadium, Baton Rouge. I couldn’t get over how popular college sport is in America, with most people supporting a University team rather than one in the professional ranks.

LSU are having an excellent season and they extended their winning run with an 8-2 victory in sunny but windy conditions.

Bloody students.

Bloody students.

The second baseball game was back in New Orleans where the Triple –A Zephyrs were taking on Miami Marlins of the Major League. This was the event of the season for Jen’s brother Jeff and he was pleased to be able to report a sell-out.

We had tickets for behind the plate but soon moved close to first base to avoid having to look through a net. The protective nets are much smaller than the ones at the Korean baseball stadiums which tend to stretch the full length of the field. A lot of fans in Korea tend not to follow the game too closely, preferring to focus on the eating and drinking with their friends. I can empathise with that. However, the number of people getting sparked out cold whilst pouring soju must have been sufficient to make the full netting a must.

Zephyrs v Marlins.

Zephyrs v Marlins.

The Zephyrs didn’t do particularly well against their MLB opponents and the Marlins soon built up a big lead. It looked as if the visitors weren’t keen on hanging around either as they rattled through their innings in quick time. One of the pleasures of a day at the baseball is drinking in the sunshine and so I rattled through a few pints in just as quick a time. It was fortunate that I did really, as in a little under two hours it was all over. I can’t remember the final score but it wasn’t close.

We joined Jeff afterwards at a bar across the road from the stadium to drink daiquiris, another first for me. I’m not sure what was in them but they went down every bit as well as the beer had.

I think their gallons are slightly smaller than ours.

I think their gallons are slightly smaller than ours.

That’s it for the American sporting stuff, back to the Korean baseball. Doosan Bears against SK Wyverns. The Wyverns are usually there or thereabouts at the end of the season and in the three years that I’ve been watching baseball they’ve won the Korean Series once and finished runners-up on the other two occasions. Doosan aren’t anything like as good and if they can make the four-team play-off at the end of the season then they will have done well.

SK starting pitcher Yeo Gun Wook

SK starting pitcher Yeo Gun Wook

The early table didn’t reflect the historical success of each team though with Doosan at the top with three wins from three games and SK at the bottom having lost every time they’d played. I was hoping for a decent crowd in response to Doosan’s good start but it didn’t work out that way. The outfield was virtually empty and the Wyverns fans, perhaps less than impressed by their team’s early showing, hadn’t really bothered turning up either.

Oddly, you don't get these at American baseball.

Oddly, you don’t get these at American baseball.

It was nil-nil when I arrived early in the first and still that way an hour later in the fourth when I called it a day. The combination of cold weather and jet-lag made me decide that I needed to be in bed despite it only being eight in the evening.

I had a look at the results the next day and SK had won to kick-start their season. I’ll be back at Jamsil once I’m capable of staying up later than a six year old.

Orix Buffaloes v Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, Monday 1st October 2012, 6pm

October 23, 2012

There was no football scheduled for the third day of our Chuseok trip to Japan and so Jen and I took the train to Osaka to watch some baseball. With the game not due to start until six o’clock we had a wander around the city centre first. It’s a pleasant enough place with plenty of bars and restaurants, some of which probably seated no more than half a dozen people. Speaking of small stuff, we spotted a fire engine that looked suspiciously undersized. Maybe it’s for getting cats out of bushes rather than trees.

Or maybe they just have giant firemen.

After lunch  we had a look at Osaka Castle. It’s in a park and if you head up to the top there are decent views of the city in each direction. As with a lot of stuff in Japan and Korea, it’s not original though. Over the five hundred years or so that it has existed it has been rebuilt a few times, usually due to siege damage or someone inadvertently setting fire to it whilst aiming for that scorched wood effect on the skirting boards. Its most recent make-over has resulted in the current version being made from concrete.

Osaka Castle.

There’s only so much culture you can take at a time and once we’d had our fill we took the subway to the Kyocera Dome, the indoor stadium where Orix Buffaloes play a lot of their fixtures. They aren’t very good and went into the game bottom of their six team Pacific Division. The visitors, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, have a better record this season and are currently sitting in fourth place.

The ticket prices ranged from 1,700 yen for a seat in the outfield to a top-priced 6,500 yen. As I prefer the outfield, we went for the cheaper option. One of the benefits of sitting in the outfield in Korea is that it is often the quietest part of the ground. The fans who want to sing and bang inflatable sticks together congregate at first and third bases respectively. It doesn’t work like that in Japan though, or at least it didn’t in this game, and as the stadium started to fill up we discovered that the more vocal fans set up camp in the cheap seats.

We were sitting quite close to the Buffaloes supporters. There were a couple of hundred of them and at least four of them had brought their trumpets. They reminded me a little of Spanish football fans who often seem to have a brass section somewhere amongst them.

Orix Brass Band

There were a similar number of Eagles fans to our right. I couldn’t see any trumpets but they made plenty of noise. Surprisingly, to me anyway, the rest of the stadium was very sparsely populated. I know it’s getting on for the end of the season and neither of the teams were in any danger of ending up in the play-offs, but I’d always assumed that Japanese baseball would be played in front of decent sized crowds.

The away fans.

The starting pitcher for Orix was Yuki Nishi. He’s only twenty-one but it’s already three years since he made his Buffaloes debut. I couldn’t find much information on him, but a week after our visit he pitched a ‘no-hitter’ game against Softbank Hawks. He didn’t do as well on this occasion though, conceding two runs early on and seven hits in total before calling it a night after the eighth innings.

Yuki Nishi – Orix Buffaloes

Yasunori Kikuchi opened for the Eagles and he conceded three runs in his lengthy stint, two in the fifth and then the game-clincher in the eighth. I know even less about him than I do Mr. Nishi, but he pulled off a magnificent ‘caught and bowled’ catch. He did it with such apparent nonchalance that it reminded me of an incident from my schooldays. The teacher, who had got a bit pissed off at some kid’s lack of attention, hurled a wooden blackboard rubber at him as hard as he could. A lad who was sitting in front of the intended target just stuck out an arm as the missile passed by him and caught it one-handed without even appearing to look up for his book. He then calmly passed the blackboard rubber back to the teacher with a quietly spoken “Here you are, sir”.

Yasunori Kikuchi – Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles

One fella who did stand out, mainly on account of his size and his Korean name, was the designated hitter for the Buffaloes, Lee Dae Ho. It turns out that he is one of Korea’s best ever baseball players, a former Lotte Giants legend and a KBO MVP. He won a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics and earned a world record in 2010 by scoring home runs in nine successive games. He’s had a good first season in Japan but he did bugger all in this game.

Lee Dae Ho

At the start of the seventh the home fans blew up balloons and then released them. Most of them just hit the roof of the stand and dropped back down whilst a handful reached the playing field. It must be a regular occurence as the cheerleaders were waiting to clear them away.

The home fans and their balloons.

Midway through the seventh we moved around to where the away fans were sat, mainly so that I could get a look at the scoreboard. I’ve no idea what a lot of the stats mean in English, never mind in Japanese, but it looked impressive enough.

Kyocera Dome scoreboard.

As the game moved into the eighth innings we cleared off for the journey back to Kyoto. One of the unusual things that I noticed at the railway station was that they have ‘Women Only’ carriages on the trains. These were originally introduced as a measure to deter male gropers but studies have shown that a lot of the women in those carriages are now put there by their husbands who wish to read the newspaper in peace on the journey home.

‘Women Only’.

All in all, my first trip to a Japanese baseball game was an enjoyable experience. Not as enjoyable as the last time I’d watched a game in a stadium with a roof, but it was never going to come close to the Boro’s Carling Cup win at Cardiff. There were enough differences from the Korean way of doing things to make it interesting and I’d quite like to go back to Japan some time and see a more meaningful game with a bigger crowd.