Korean pro baseball in full swing in empty stadiums

Photo courtesy of GUNPRA LAB
Photo courtesy of GUNPRA LAB

Korean pro baseball in full swing in empty stadiums

by ChiHon Kim
Stripes Korea

As South Korea does its best get things back to normal, baseball fans can let out a cheer because the Korean Baseball Organization, the country’s professional baseball league, has started its season.

For now, you won’t be able to go a stadium to watch the action. Instead, you can turn on ESPN, which started airing KBO games in May to try to fill the void left by canceled or postponed professional sports in the States, including Major League Baseball.

Baseball in Korea is relatively new in comparison to the long history of the sport in the U.S. Chun Doo-hwan, a former South Korean soldier who came to power through a military coup in 1979, used baseball as a strategy to distract the public from his politics. He promised various tax breaks to big companies in return for the funding a pro baseball team and, to this day, you’ll find many teams in Korea are named after and owned by large companies.

The league, which made its debut in 1982 and has grown to 10 teams, is slated play a 144-game season this year.

KBO and MLB are both professional baseball league, but each has its different rules and culture, and, of course, the quality of play in MLB can’t be matched by its Korean counterpart. But that doesn’t mean KBO isn’t entertaining.

If you’ve ever caught a game of Korean baseball you may have noticed Korean players flipping their bat after hitting a home run or even a foul ball. You may have expected the player to get beaned with ball in his next at bat for showing up the pitcher, which is common place in the States.

Photo courtesy of DOOSAN BEARS

Photo courtey of Kiwoom Heroes

However, bat-flipping is not taboo in Korea. It is commonly referred to as "ppa-dun," which is a compound slang word that combines the first syllables of the words for “ppatta" and "dunjigi." "Ppatta" is a Japanese way of saying "bat" in Korea, and “dunjigi" means "throw."

No one knows when this antic became a common occurrence in KBO, but it has since become a fan favorite. In Korea, bat-flipping is considered a skill, and how it will be executed and by which player is always highly anticipated by fans.

Photo courtesy of ESPN

The difference in etiquette between the American and Korean baseball is something Korean players with aspirations of joining the MLB have to consider. A notable example is Park Byung-ho, 33, a slugger and one of the most entertaining bat flippers in KBO history. He had a hard time getting rid of the habit of hitting home runs and throwing bats right after he was offered to join the Minnesota Twins in the MLB league.

Photo courtey of KBO

Another unwritten rule in KBO is when a pitcher hits a batter. The pitcher apologizes by taking off his hat and giving the hitter a slight nod to avoid a bench-clearing brawl. It is also common in Korea for pitchers to show respect to the home plate umpire by taking off their hats and bowing toward the ump before the game starts. You won’t see that in the MLB, well, unless it’s by a Korean player. Park Chan-ho, a former MLB pitcher who joined the LA Dodgers in the 90s, made headlines for greeting the MLB ump the way he always did in Korea. During games in Korea, young players also show their respect to older, more established players, in the same way.

Photo courtesy of Lotte Giants

Korean baseball fans are known for their unique way of cheering. This season, you won’t find spectators in the stadium stands, only banners with images of the crowd. But, KBO fans are known for their boisterous cheers.

Each team has its own team anthem and fans shout themselves hoarse during games. Oh, and similar to baseball in Japan, Korea teams have their own cheerleaders. The cheerleader and fans’ chants might be more closely aligned with those soccer stadium or concert than a professional baseball game.

Even if you are not a die-hard baseball fan like me, just give the highlights of the bat-flip footage a watch on YouTube or on ESPN. You'll soon realize why bat flipping and the KBO culture are worth tuning in to see. And besides, who knows when MLB will begin its season.

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