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Interview: Passionate Baseball Fan from Korea – Kihoon Jung

Interview: Passionate Baseball Fan from Korea – Kihoon Jung

The one thing I have learned watching baseball in Korea is the fans are passionate. It is a great thing to watch, especially coming from a place where most fans are fair weather fans only coming out when the team is winning. Thanks to things like Facebook and Twitter, I have been able to meet more and more baseball fans including some in Korea. So when I had the chance to sit down and ask some questions to a new friend of mine in Korea, I jumped at the chance. I really want to thank Kihoon for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions so we can better understand the baseball culture in Korea.

About Me.
My name is Kihoon and 29 years old. I am from Pusan and now working at Doosan magazine Digital Innovation team. I am sport mania. Baseball & Basketball are my all time favorites. I used to be a Intern basketball journalist during undergraduate years.

How long have you followed baseball in Korea?
Since Forever. I was born in Pusan, Mecca of baseball in Korea, in 1981 and Korean Professional league was launched the next year. My father used to play baseball at his company and loved to take me Giants games when I was young. I grew up playing and watching baseball games since I was a child. It has been over 20 years now. All of these led me be a huge fan of baseball.

What is your favorite team? Why?
Since I was born in Pusan, I was born to be a fan of my home town team Lotte Giants. It is a Korea professional team in Pusan, Korea and one of the most beloved teams in Korea as well. I used to be a Giants youth club member and have supported them for a long time. Trading is not common yet in Korean League and Many pro players are playing for their region team. It means that many of Giants players are from Pusan and that make fans give them more emotion. They are more like our friends and neighbors. Other teams are the same. I believe basically it stems from unique *KBO Draft system which changed since 2009 and Korean culture. Along with Samsung Lions in Daegu, Lotte Giants is one of only 2 teams that never changed their team name since Korean pro-league established. They won the championship 2 times in club history, 1984 and 1992. After a long Dark ages in early 2000, they are becoming champion-caliber team again by making 3 consecutive play-off appearance.(2008~2010). In addition to this, I am looking for my favorite MLB team. I have thought of Cubs, Red sox, Rangers, Indians. I heard that Cubs and Red sox are really popular team in US and known for devoted fans and tradition. I personally like the State of Texas.

Last year I supported Indians cause Shin-soo Choo is playing for them. These teams are in my boundary.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6djJhOOwTVA&feature=related (1992 Korean Series)

*KBO draft

With 1st pick, all teams have priority over their region until 2008 regardless of their rank in previous season. This system encouraged teams to support school teams in their region. But many experts pointed out that this system was advantageous to Kwangju, Seoul, Pusan teams since they have more top tier teams in their farm. Thus, Draft system has been changed from 2009. It is now overall draft like US. Draft system is still controversial issue.

What is your greatest memory of baseball?
If I have to pick a single game in particular, That would be 1999 KBO Play-off series game 7 between Lions and Giants. Giants dramatically got over 1-3 series to 3-3. The Game 7 was really close and heated until until the end of it. Giants broke the tie and won 6-5 in the 11th inning.  The game still remain as one of the most incredible match in Korean play-off history.

I uploaded a highlight clip here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JG3FZ0WTdXw

Every single game between huge east rivalry Korea and Japan is always fun to watch. 2009 WBC final, Semi final in 2008 Olympic, 2005 WBC tournament.

What team would you say has the most passionate fans in Korea?
The Giants have the most passionate fans in Korea. In fact, they are a little bit crazy sometimes. The Giants have the attendance record for a single season (1.38 million) in KBO and they gathered more than 1 million attendances 3 years in a row from 2008. For your information, the total attendance number of KBO in 2010 was 5.92million. Giants fan have lots of unique and dynamic cheering repertories and they are overwhelming than other team`s Among them, two songs, “Pusan Sea gull” , “Please come back to Pusan port” are famous and wearing orange plastic bag, shaking newspaper are also unique stuff. There ia a documentary movie about Lotte Giants (2009) named “I am a sea gull” I will send you if you want. Besides Giants, Kia tigers also have very enthusiastic fans. The 2 big market teams in Seoul, LG twins and Doosan Bears are popular team too.

Lotte

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3q9F3A2bTc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9321dLW69Y&feature=fvw

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vscBjrpXhM&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pj9NVo-4iKc&feature=fvw

Do you follow baseball in Japan or the USA?
I think I am pretty much involved in MLB baseball. Since Chan-ho Park became the first Korean major league player, I have watched MLB games in Korea sometimes. Every one of Chan-ho`s games were available and also I was able to see Mariners games through NHK. I really like some dynamic Latin keystone players like Furcal, Reyes, Cora. They please my eyes. I check news articles and highlight clip on MLB web site on a daily base now. It is one of ways to study English for me. I enjoyed watching the World Series this season, too. Compared to USA, I have not experienced much about Japanese baseball. I only check Korean player`s news. There are 4 Korean players in NPB now. I have a good personal impression on Japanese baseball, though. I have traveled in Japan a few years ago and pleasantly surprised about their baseball facilities. Lots of baseball fields were readily available. I could easily see many people playing baseball. When I visited Osaka, neon signs of Hanshin tigers, one of the most popular Japanese Professional team were everywhere. I heard that Hanshin is also known as crazy fans. Their traditional home stadium is very famous. I hope to venture out there!

How do you feel the baseball in Korea compares to Japan or the USA?
Regarding Pro-league game, Korea baseball game is more intense than US from my perspective. It is probably because only 8 teams are competing and they know each other well. They tend to use detailed tactics based on detailed analysis data. Lots of substitutions as well. Trade is not that common in Korea. It is becoming more frequent but not as much as US yet. Given the fact that Trade is not that common and only 8 teams are in the league, it would be relatively easy to analyze other teams and use them in games.  On the other hand, US players play based on their superb athleticism and very aggressively. There are a lot of back and forth between Major league and Triple A. It makes it hard to analyze other teams, I think. It seems like they tend to cover their weak positions by trading rather than developing their farm youth players. I think Korea and Us have different view on their rookie level players. Korean team think  “I bought my boy. I will teach and develop you to explode your potential. Pay me back later” US team think “I paid for you. Now you have to show me”  US has deep resource pool thus they don`t need to wait and be patient. Since late 1990` some potential Korean player challenged to Major league but nearly all of them were failed. They had to manage everything by themselves and didn`t have many opportunities. If they had been more cared for or coached, some of them might have been successful. Japanese baseball is similar with Korean style. Their analysis tool is  much more sophisticated. Aside from Pro-league, US and Japan has more deep and extended baseball base than Korea. For example, Korea has only 60 or even less high school teams while Japan has nearly 4,000. US is needless to say.

What about the fans, how do they compare?
It seems to me that US people just enjoy game individually and more stay focus on the field. Maybe they respect other`s privacy and try not to disturb others. I think there may be more family unit fans and season members. Still, they are enthusiastic. They are more straight forward and even shout jeers at their players sometimes. That surprised me. On the other hand, Korean fans really like cheering together. Every team in Korea has cheer leader and they lead. If you want to just watch baseball game, it might be distracting sometimes but cheering is fascinating stuff that bring you to the stadium. I saw some people who barely know about baseball go to baseball game just for cheering and enjoying the atmosphere Its like NCAA basketball game. You stand up and shout, sing, dance, jeering whole throughout a game. Some people say that it is a party. One noticeable recent issue is that many young female fans are increasing. Japan is like to be about between them. They have both. As far as I know, If you want to be part of group cheering, you can go to outfield area. If you want to stay focus on game, you can do that in infield area. Whenever I watch Japanese baseball game, there were many old people and individual fans in infield seat and Group cheering was in outfield area.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6REyXnCGdJA Hanshin tigers cheering

I know you play on a team in Seoul.  How long have you played?
I play for 2 teams now. I moved up to Seoul for my job in 2008 and I started to play at my company team, Doozins. Some Staffs who love baseball gathered team members and established a team in 2007. Our Senior executives are really supportive. We play at single A level league near Seoul and reached the play-offs this season. It was the first time! I also found another team ‘Khazon’ (Hope in Hebrew) near my neighborhood and have played with them for 1 year now. We have a team practice every Saturday preparing for League in next season. Obviously we have improved a lot and now are about the Double A level in Korea Social league. we are becoming well-organized team and I love to see the proceeding.

What are your thoughts on playing with foreigners?
Actually, a few weeks ago, one foreigner guy from US expressed his interest in playing baseball in Korea and ask if there is a space for him. For me, it would be quite interesting having foreigners in my team. There may be some communication problem sometimes but it really doesn`t matter. You know, baseball is our language. No matter where they are from, they can be part of our team as long as they love baseball and sincerely participate in team activities. In the field, playing with foreigners would not make any huge difference. Beside, playing together, we can be also good friends and share some cultural background of Baseball sitting down over a bottle of beer. That’s something pretty cool I think.  I have a one female who is devoted fan of Braves. She did part-time work at Yankees farm before and told me many stories about her baseball experiences. She told me that Cheering culture is really impressive here and few teams have cheer leader in State. She also told me that she miss the big sound of Drum and Band in Turner field. I want to be there one day, too!!

Do you model your game after anyone?
Ichiro Suzuki of Seattle Mariners.  I think he is setting  such a good role model for non-power Asian players. He is like a Cartoon Character for me. He is really smart. I never have seen any bone head play from him. I believe it stems from good fundamentalism, his high level of intensity on a game and Professionalism.  We got some common things too. We are lead-off hitter, Left handed hitter, right handed pitcher, and skinny contact hitter. He is truly a multi-talented player. I mean he has everything. I have seen some people who underrate him by his look and nationality saying that he is selfish and a bad-ball hitter. However, I must say this, all the records he got so far simply demonstrates how great he is as a ball player. I wish we could have that kind of player in Korea, too.

How serious would you say people take baseball in Korea both playing and watching?
Among Pro sports, Baseball is the most popular sports in Korea. I think it is becoming national sports. Baseball is consistently loved regardless of social class and it is going to be the same way in the future. Especially, WBC boosted baseball in Korea again and people not only just watch baseball but also start to play. Many new social leagues have been established recently and it is close to impossible to secure baseball field for new teams. Joining league become really competitive. In my case, the entry fee was raised by nearly 30% this season but it was filled.

I want to thank Kihoon for taking time out of his busy schedule.  Not only did he come through with amazing information, but he did it in a 2nd language (quite well too). It’s fans like this that I want to meet across the world.  People who love the game, want to spread the greatness of the game, but also have a love and respect for the history of the game. Thanks again Kihoon, and I can’t wait till I get back to Korea so we can sit down and talk baseball face to face.

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