Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

Sangmu v Nexen Heroes, Sunday 29th July 2012, 11am

August 14, 2012

One of my grand plans for this season had been to get to a few games featuring the Futures League teams in baseball’s second tier. It’s worked out reasonably well so far with me seeing Samsung Lions at Gyeongsan Ball Park, Lotte Giants at their Sangdong complex, LG at Champions Park and the independent team, Goyang Wonders, at the National Team Training Stadium.

This time, it was the turn of the Army team (Sangmu) and their game with Nexen Heroes at the Sangmu Stadium within the Army base near Bokjeong.

In a rare lesson learned I checked the starting time in advance and, sure enough, it had been shifted forward from one o’clock to eleven o’clock. Jen had worked out where I needed to be on Google Maps and it all seemed very simple. I had to take the subway to Bokjeong station on the Bundang line, leave at either of exits one or two and walk along the road between the exits for a couple of hundred yards. At that point I just had to bear left and four hundred yards or so later I’d be there.

Did it work like that? Of course not. The first bit did, I suppose, and I was able to leave Bokjeong subway as planned but my attempt to walk two hundred yards in the direction I wanted was thwarted by a combination of roadworks and a construction site.

No problem, I thought. I’ll just do it the other way around and walk four hundred yards away from the station before turning right and doing the necessary two hundred yards that way. Well, that started off ok too, but I made the error of crossing one road too many and I ended up trapped behind a forty foot high wall shielding a dual carriage way. Once again I retraced my steps. It was beginning to feel like I was in one of those computer games where you walk down corridors, nothing happens and so you walk down even more corridors until eventually some pixie appears with a magic key or something.

After a couple more false dawns I’d just about walked along every route in the area that I could have done. Finally I found the base gate where rather than a pixie with a magic key I was confronted by a soldier with a gun.

“Halt, who goes there?”

The guard’s English was better than my Korean but I was still reduced to miming a particularly crap baseball swing. If he’d given me a scythe and put me on gardening duty I couldn’t really have complained. The realisation that I was there to watch second tier baseball gave him sufficient cause for concern to warrant the checking of my details on his database of people who need keeping an eye on.

Once I’d been classified as ‘Sad but harmless’ the guard was happy to exchange my Alien Registration Card for a military base pass and then direct me towards the baseball park.

My Licence to Kill. Or to watch baseball if I sat quietly.

As a result of my arseing about trying to find the place I’d missed the first fifteen minutes. Still, it’s better than turning up at 1pm for a game that’s already two hours old, as I’ve done twice so far this season. They were into the second innings and there was no score.

Sangmu Baseball Park.

I’ve no idea really if there were any stars turning out for the Army whilst undertaking their military service, nor if Nexen had any big names working their way back to fitness, I was happy just to sit there, wait for the big hits and eat cold pizza from the night before. There were probably about another thirty people watching and as usual most of them will have been friends or family of someone taking part.

The main (and only) stand.

The first score came in the sixth innings with a two run homer by a fella on the Army team. The ball landed in the nettles near me and I was able to point out the general area to a couple who were quite content to be stung in return for being able to retrieve it and take it home. Sangmu added a third run later in that innings but that was it and it finished up 3-0.

Proof that sometimes I don’t make it all up as I go along.

I traded my base pass for my Alien Registration Card on the way out and made my way home. As I’m a decent bloke and I’ve written less than I thought I would I’ll give you the directions that you need to get you there. 

You come out of exit one of Bokjeong station. Follow the road for a couple of hundred yards until you reach a petrol station. Turn right without crossing the road and keep walking. After another couple of hundred yards or so you can see a baseball park behind the razor wire. Keep on for a bit further and you’ll reach a manned security point. When challenged by the guard, mime chopping down some long grass and you’ll be fine.

Doosan Bears v LG Twins, Tuesday 24th July 2012, 6.30pm

August 6, 2012

It had been about seven weeks since I’d been to a game at Jamsil, so I thought I’d pop along to the ‘derby’ between the Bears and the Twins. There’s usually a decent crowd when these two rivals play each other and so Jen went down early to pick us up some tickets.

Too early as it happened. After a wasted hour spent queueing in the afternoon only for the ticket office to remain closed, she ended up returning half an hour before the start so that she could save us a couple of seats in the outfield. By the time I arrived half an hour into the game, it was apparent that Jen’s efforts had been for nothing as there were whole blocks of empty seats. Whilst there was a reasonable turnout from the ‘home’ team, Doosan, the Twins fans must have thought that their poor showing this season was enough of a reason not to turn up.

Plenty of space near us.

LG have been slipping further and further down the table lately and it’s just a question of whether they will finish seventh or last. Doosan though, were in fourth position and part of a close scrap for a play-off place.

It was still 0-0 when I arrived, with Radhames Liz pitching for LG. He’s played Major League for Baltimore Orioles and is in his second season with the Twins.

Radhames Liz pitching to Jung Soo Bin

The starter for Doosan was Im Tae Hoon. I don’t know too much about this fella other than he’s twenty three and he won a gold medal for Korea at the 2010 Asian games. Usually a medal at an event like that is sufficient to gain a waiver from Military Service, but in an eight team competition that included those baseball giants Thailand, Pakistan and Mongolia, avoiding almost two years of guard duty and marching up and down seems like a reward way out of line with the achievement.

Im Tae Hoon – Doosan Bears

Anyway, the poor attendance just meant that we had a bit more space to ourselves. We’d brought some leftover pasta and mushrooms in pesto sauce and followed that up with the usual Spanish sheep cheese and chorizo. I’d carefully decanted a couple of bottles of Merlot into an empty plastic litre and a half water bottle in the way that the wine experts recommend and we had a lazy couple of hours as darkness fell.

Doosan fans waving inflatable sticks

It was 5-2 to LG in the fifth by the time the wine had all gone and that, as usual, was our signal to clear off. When you don’t care which team wins you don’t need to stay until one of them does.

Someone celebrating something or other.

Mind you, we missed a fair bit of action. Doosan rattled home seven runs in their fifth innings and added another four by the end of the seventh. That was too many for LG to pull back and despite adding another six runs themselves, they went down by thirteen runs to eleven.

LG Twins v Sangmu, Sunday 8th July 2012, 11am

July 11, 2012

I’d been saving a visit to GS Champions Park for a day when I had the time to get there by walking alongside the Han River. It’s probably about three and a half hours from Yeoksam. You head for the Olympic stadium, then follow the river eastwards, crossing somewhere convenient before reaching Champions Park on the North bank.

The plans that I’d had for the day before had been scuppered by the weather forecast and so Jen and I thought we’d give it a trial run by walking eastwards along the south bank of the Han and trying to spot Champions Park from the opposite side of the river. It shouldn’t have been too difficult to find from what I’d noticed on the maps, there are three football pitches and a baseball park, plus a few buildings.

Here’s one I took in January. It was colder then.

It didn’t quite work though and whilst we saw everything from crowded outdoor swimming pools to the ongoing construction of a new bridge we didn’t manage to spot Champions Park. To make matters worse it turned out to be a hotter day than we had expected and after nearly four hours of walking we were both quite badly sunburnt and probably suffering from a touch of sunstroke too.

The following day I scrapped my plans to walk to the game, whilst Jen took it a step further and cancelled all baseball related activities. She did however give me a bit of guidance on dealing with the taxi driver by suggesting that I adding ‘uh’ suffixes to ‘GS’, ‘Champions’ and ‘Park’. It worked a treat, or at least sufficiently well for him to guess what to look for on his satnav and I arrived ten minutes before the scheduled one o’clock start. Unfortunately, as so often happens at these second tier Futures League games, the starting time had been brought forward and the game was already into the sixth innings.

Champions Park

Still, an hour or so of baseball is better than nothing and with it being another red-hot day it might even have been better than three hours of baseball. The small covered area that was being used by spectators was full and so I just took my place on a grassy bank behind the plate.

The shaded seats behind the plate.

There were maybe another seventy or so people watching, the odd family having a picnic, a few who were probably friends and family of the players involved and, as ever, a couple of dozen young girls who were either WAGs or looked as if they had ambitions in that direction.

Whilst there were plenty of LG shirts in the crowd most of the interest was in the Army players. It’s not surprising really as they will all have been successful pro players before their National Service stint. The pitcher Oh Hyun Taek seemed pretty popular, as did the catcher Park Dong Won.

Oh Hyun Taek

One Army fella was deemed good enough to be walked every time he came out to bat. How rubbish is that, never being given a chance to ever hit the ball? Still I suppose it’s a lot better than spending your Sunday on guard duty or marching up and down the parade ground.

The Sangmu dugout.

I haven’t bothered to check the standings for the Futures League but you’d think that both the Army and Police teams would do pretty well. I imagine that it would be quite embarrassing if the players were to lose to the reserve teams of the clubs that they would normally play for.

LG take their turn to bat.

Sangmu had already been a couple of runs ahead when I arrived and they steadily increased their lead as the game went on. As the final innings drew to a close the WAGs and potential WAGs gathered by the walkway to the buses, like mothers at the school gate.

Time to go home.

The final score was 10-6 to the visitors and an hour after arriving I was in a taxi again, heading back to Yeoksam.

Doosan Bears v Kia Tigers, Thursday 31st May 2012, 6.30pm

July 3, 2012

I’ve recently had a bit of feedback. It went along the lines of  “Your blog’s even crappier than normal these days. Can’t you just rattle on about what you had for your tea rather than all that baseball bollocks?”

Most visitors stumble across this place by way of a Google search, ‘Pitchers of bears’ being one of the current favourites, incidentally. It must be a big disappointment when they find a snap of Dustin Nippert chucking a baseball rather than a photo of a couple of cute Grizzly cubs. By my reckoning I’ve only got about four proper readers and so I suppose I can’t really afford to alienate any of them by chuntering on about first basemen that nobody has heard of at the expense of keeping folks up to date on what I’ve been eating.

Pitchers of bears. Sort of.

Thing is though, a blog of what I had for my tea would generally be pretty dull. Not that Korean sport can’t be dull too, but it’s a different kind of dull. Minority interest dull as opposed to everyday life dull. It’s not as if I’m eating still-wriggling snipped off squid legs every night and there’s only so many times that silkworm grubs are going to be on the menu. Once, I suspect, will remain the final total for that one.

It would have been an even worse blog if I’d been writing it as a kid though as in those days I would eat the same thing every night for around a year at a time. I went from hot dogs to date sandwiches to tinned ravioli. Each fad ended as suddenly as it had started and usually left my parents with a cupboard full of food that nobody else was remotely interested in. I’d have sent me back to the Children’s Home if I had been them.

However, I’m an accommodating sort of fella and I’m happy to advise that Jen and I took a bit of a picnic to the baseball game. We had a couple of baguettes (pre-sliced for us in the shop), some of that Edam with the peppers in it and a few slices of cured ham made from acorn-fed pigs that we’d sneaked in from Spain. The ham, that is, not the pigs. I doubt that Customs would be quite that lax and anyway, we live in a fourth floor apartment and keeping livestock is probably frowned upon. We also took a couple of bottles of red wine. For the connoisseurs amongst you, it was top stuff, 13.5%, no bits in it and with screw tops for convenience.

Right, now that I’ve got you all buzzing like four-year old kids eating Skittles it’s time for the usual dull stuff. Doosan, in fourth place, were taking on second to bottom Kia. However, with the exception of Hanwha who are a bit adrift at the foot of the standings, it’s all pretty tight this season. Doosan had won the first two games of the three-game series but if Kia had taken them then it would have been the visitors who would have been in fourth place instead.

Others were having fried chicken for their tea.

Neither starting pitcher was a big name, Doosan’s Lim Tae-hoon and Kia’s Kim Jin Woo usually tending to be relief pitchers. As this is more of a food blog these days I’ll leave it at that for them. The players that most people had come to see were the big hitters, Choi Jun Suk for the home team and Choi Hee Seop aka ‘Big Choi’ for Kia. Both of them look as if they like their grub. I’d guess that Choi Jun Suk probably snacks on a couple of St Bernards to stave off the hunger pangs between meals.

He can certainly move when he has to though.

By the time we’d unscrewed the cap on the first wine bottle Kia were already two runs up, one of them coming from Big Choi. There were lots of away fans near us in the outfield seats, one of whom had managed to partially disguise his Bobby Charlton-style comb-over by staining his napper in the way that people used to do with hard-boiled eggs at Easter until Cadburys put a stop to that sort of nonsense.

We didn’t have anything else to eat after the picnic and so that was about it really for the evening. We cleared off as soon as the wine ran out and when I checked the score the next day it turned out that Kia had won 4-2.

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.

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.

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.

Doosan Bears v Samsung Lions, 17th April 2012, 6.30pm

April 30, 2012

I’d watched Samsung Lions a couple of days earlier in their home game with Nexen. Their next fixture was at Jamsil against Doosan Bears and as it was a warm evening, one of the first of the year, I thought I’d go along after work and watch.

My initial plan had been to walk, but I got a bit impatient and hopped onto the subway at Seolleung for a two stop journey that saved me twenty minutes or so. The way the game panned out it proved to be a lucky decision. The area around the stadium was fairly busy and there was a sizeable queue at the ticket office.

As I stood in line I was approached by one of the granny touts. She had a nine thousand won ticket that due to her holding up three fingers I thought she must have been asking thirty thousand for. I offered her a ten thousand won note, which she took and then gave me five thousand won change. I’ve no real idea how that worked but can only assume that she had originally been asking for three thousand won and had then decided that I could afford five thousand instead. Still, we both did ok out of it.

That's my granny tout in the brown coat.

My ticket was for a reserved seat in the main stand. I’m just as happy sitting in the outfield though and as the entrance was right next to the ticket office I went there instead. I had to persuade the girl on the gate to let me in, but as I had a higher priced ticket and there were likely to be lots of empty seats, that wasn’t too difficult.

I’d missed the opening twenty minutes, but it was still 0-0 with Doosan batting in their first innings. I’d been right about there being plenty of empty seats. The outfield was sparsely populated and I could have had my pick of where to sit in most parts of the main stand.

Plenty of space in the outfield seats.

Jang Won Sam was the starting pitcher for Samsung. He has an unusual action where he faces away from the batter as he starts his throw. I’m sure that most of the coaches that he will have worked with over the years will have wanted to pick him up and re-position him in the opposite direction. I was in Japan a couple of years ago and kept seeing people reading on the subway. Over there, writing is done in vertical lines rather than horizontally and it took all of my willpower not to reach out and rotate whatever they were reading ninety degrees for them.

Jang Won Sam prepares to get tonked out of the ground.

Maybe Jang Won Sam will start facing the right direction when pitching in future because he got a real pasting in this game. Firstly Kim Dong Joo got a hit that allowed a team mate to get home from second. Then Choi Joon Seok  cracked a home run for three to make it four-nil. One of the younger Doosan players, Jung Soo Bin, got in on the act next hitting to second with the bases loaded to get two more home. Six-nil to Doosan. There was more to come though and Son Si Hyun hit a ball deep into the outfield for another two runs.

The first Doosan innings finally finished at twenty past seven with them leading by eight runs to nil. It was virtually game over. For Samsung starting pitcher Jang Won Sam it actually was game over as he got the hook after a first innings where he had pitched fifty-three balls for eight runs and six hits.

Choi Joon Seok doffs his cap after his three run homer.

The game settled down a bit after that opening flurry and there were no more runs for a while. Samsung seemed to show a bit more urgency in the field than they had done early on, but when you are eight runs down it’s probably not going to make a lot of difference. I got a couple more cans of Hite from the lady who was wandering around with a basket on her head and just sat back waiting for some more big hits.

I did my best to lighten her load.

I had to wait until the fifth for the next run. Jung Soo Bin’s hit took him to third, enabling him to get home a couple of balls later and extend Doosan’s lead to nine.

The travelling Samsung fans didn’t seem overly subdued by the scoreline and they had the odd moment or two to cheer. Unfortunately it was more often than not their mascot moonwalking than anything happening on the field though. Lee Seung Yeop, newly returned from his time in Japan, improved the mood with a hit to second. Unfortunately he raised an even bigger cheer from the Bears fans next ball when he strayed too far from his base and ran himself out.

Lee Seung Yeop - Samsung Lions

Doosan got through plenty of pitchers as they looked to be giving everyone a chance in conditions where there wasn’t much pressure. In the ninth it was the turn of their American fella Scott Proctor. I’ve looked him up and he’s played a lot of Major League Baseball. He’s an interesting character, having been thrown out of a couple of games for deliberately chucking the ball at the receiving batter. He also set fire to his baseball kit on the field after one bad performance for the New York Yankees. That’s worth staying to the end for.

"Can I borrow your lighter please?"

With a nine run lead I wasn’t expecting Proctor to get up to much mischief in this game. I was pleased though to see Lee Seung Yeop take a consolation run off him in the ninth, just on the off-chance that the pyromaniac pitcher might reach for the petrol can and start dowsing his cap and boots. If he did, he waited until they were safely out of sight in the dressing room.

The defeat was the second in a row for last season’s champions following their 10-7 home defeat against Nexen. Whilst that game had been close, this one could have been an even heavier loss than it was as only some very good Lions fielding and a couple of hits falling just short of the crowd kept the score down to nine for Doosan.