Korean pro baseball league a hit with fans

by .
Korea Tourism Organization

Baseball is one of the most popular sports in Korea. Since its introduction in 1982, the sport has drawn a total of more than 100 million spectators. In 2012, the number of baseball fans flocking to the stadiums made headlines by surpassing 7 million. Although the figure slightly decreased to 6.75 million in 2013, it still exemplified the enduring popularity of professional baseball in Korea.

After the Korean national baseball team won the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and second place in the 2009 World Baseball Classics, many lukewarm fans became avid spectators and the popularity of the sport continued to grow. Over time, spectators took on a greater passion for the game, turning stadiums into popular gathering spots serving as an outlet of energy for fans of all ages.

The Korean Baseball Scene

Though a baseball game typically lasts more than two hours, there are so many side events going on during Korean baseball games that you'll never be bored, even if you aren't a fan of the sport. The infield bleachers near the first and third baselines are always in an uproar as each team's fans boisterously root for their team following the chants of their cheerleaders and hype-man.

In no time flat, two hours have passed. In between bouts of cheering, fans munch on fried chicken, pizza, and mandu, passing food back and forth while sipping some ice cold beer. One of the most anticipated side events of the game is the kiss cam where shots of young couples kissing and, every so often, a marriage proposal are flashed up on the scoreboard.

In Korea, it is common for a celebrity to liven up the stadium atmosphere by throwing or hitting the ceremonial first pitch of the game. These events often attract great interest and draw even bigger crowds to the stadiums on game day.

Korean Pro Baseball Teams

There were traditionally eight professional baseball teams in Korea, three of which are based in Seoul. The NC Dinos, a newly created team based in Changwon, joined the league in 2013, making nine teams in total. With the addition of this new team, the 2013 Korean Professional Baseball season was even more intense and exciting for the fans. Keep reading for more on the strengths of each Korean baseball team and some of their star players.

DOOSAN BEARS

The Doosan Bears club was established in 1982 and has a history marked by numerous victories. Not only were they champions of the Korea Baseball Organizations inaugural season in 1982, the team also won the championship in 1995 and 2011. The Doosan Bears share their home stadium in Jamsil with the LG Twins, so it’s only natural that the two teams have become rivals, causing a frenzy among fans each time they face off. When the two teams meet in the postseason, the games are called the “Dugout Series,” since the two teams have the same home stadium and only change dugouts.

One of the first Doosan Bears to become well-known was Park Cheol-sun, who was nicknamed “The Phoenix” after making an epic comeback from a serious injury. In his first year of professional baseball in 1982, Park won 22 consecutive games, setting a world record for most consecutive wins in a single season by a pitcher. The same year, he led the team to a victory in the championships and was named the season’s MVP. After 13 seasons of playing with the Doosan Bears, Park retired after the 1996 season and his number (No. 21) was permanently retired.

More Info
• Manager: Song Il-soo
• Home Stadium: Seoul Sports Complex (Jamsil Sports Complex), Songpa-gu, Seoul
• Directions: Sports Complex Station (Subway Line 2), Exit 5 or 6
• Homepage: http://www.doosanbears.com (Korean, English)

LG TWINS

The LG twins are known for their exciting play. Formerly named the MBC Blue Dragons (became the LG Twins in 1990), the team became quite popular after winning the 1990 and 1994 championships. Every year, the team draws huge crowds of spectators, many of whom take advantage of the team's signature red thunder sticks. However, in recent years, the LG Twins have struggled to return to its former glory. After making it to the semifinals in 2002, the team routinely finished at the bottom of the league from 2003 to 2010. In 2013, the team finally made it to the postseason and took third place much to the joy of its fans.

In the team's earlier years, Baek In-cheon (from the MBC Blue Dragons) was a key player. Both a player and team manager, Baek remains the only batter in league history to finish a season with a batting average of over .400 (0.412).

More Info
• Manager: Kim Ki-tae
• Home Stadium: Seoul Sports Complex (Jamsil Sports Complex), Songpa-gu, Seoul
• Directions: Sports Complex Station (Subway Line 2), Exit 5 or 6
• Homepage: http://www.lgtwins.com (Korean)

LOTTE GIANTS

One can't talk about Korean baseball without mentioning the Lotte Giants. Known as the team with the most passionate fan base in Korea, the Giants are based in Busan, Korea's baseball city. Fans have several unique ways of expressing their loyalty, including the practice of tying orange plastic bags on their heads during games. Not only do the bags match the team uniforms, but they are also perfect to put trash in after the game. Another unique cheering custom associated with the Lotte Giants is that there is a cheer for each player. The passionate fans of the Lotte Giants epitomize the cheering culture of Korean baseball. If you're a hardcore baseball fan, make sure to catch a Lotte game!

Formed in 1982, the Lotte Giants won the Korean Series in 1984 and 1992. Unfortunately, the team made an even more memorable record by placing last for four consecutive years starting in 2001. Another unique fact about the Lotte Giants is that they are the first Korean baseball team to hire a non-Korean manager. The hire would pay off as he led the team to a playoff berth in his first year as manager, the Giant's first appearance in 8 years.

Legendary players of the Lotte Giants include Choi Dong-won, who is considered to be the best pitcher in Korean baseball history and Lee Dae-ho, who now plays for the Orix Buffaloes in Japan. Lee Dae-ho set an unprecedented record in 2010 by sweeping all the offense awards except the most steals (7 titles). He also holds a world record for hitting a home-run in 9 consecutive games.

More Info
• Manager: Kim Si-jin
• Home Stadium: Busan Sports Complex, Yeonje-gu, Busan
• Directions: Sports Complex Station (Busan Subway Line 3), Exit 9 or 11
• Homepage: http://www.giantsclub.com (Korean)

KIA TIGERS

The Kia Tigers are Korea's most successful baseball team and have won the Korean Series a total of ten times (1983, 1986-1989, 1991, 1993, 1996-1997, and 2009). The Gwangju based team was known as the Haitai Tigers until a name change in 2001.

Like the Lotte Giants, the Kia Tigers enjoy the support of passionate fans, many of whom travel to away games to create a dynamic game atmosphere and "cheer battles" against the fans of rival teams. The Kia Tigers are a long-term rival of the Samsung Lions, making for particularly exciting games when the two are pitted against each other.

As a top baseball team, the Kia Tigers have produced many legendary stars including the mighty pitcher Sun Dong-yeol. After a successful baseball career in Japan, he returned to the Kia Tigers as team manager in 2012.

More Info
• Manager: Sun Dong-yeol
• Home Stadium: Gwangju Mudeung Stadium, Buk-gu, Gwangju
• Directions: From Gwangju Station Bus Stop, take Bus 98 or 151 to Mudeung Stadium
(Travel time: approx. 15 min) / Taxi: 3,000 won – 4,000 won (Travel time: approx. 7 min)
• Homepage: http://www.tigers.co.kr (Korean)

SAMSUNG LIONS

Based in Daegu and known for their long-standing presence in the field of Korean baseball, the Samsung Lions have almost managed to keep pace with their rivals, the Kia Tigers. The team won the Korean Series nine times. However, while the Kia Tigers won the Korean Series several times throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, the Samsung Lions weren't able to do so for nearly two decades.

In December 2000, the Samsung Lions recruited Kim Eung-yong (who had led the Haitai (KIA) Tigers in winning the series nine times) to be the manager and finally won their first Korean Series in 2002. In November 2004, the team signed Sun Dong-yeol, the legendary pitcher of the Kia Tigers, as its manager. Under this new leadership, the team won consecutive titles in 2005 and 2006.

The main strength of the Samsung Lions lies in its batters. Lee Seung-yeop, who set the league record for home runs in season with an impressive 56 in 2003, made a name for himself playing in Japan for 9 years before returning to his original team, the Samsung Lions. Some might argue, however, that Lee pales in comparison to former Samsung Lions player Yang Jun-hyuk, who has long been the pride of the team. He holds the records for most hits (2,318), most homeruns (351), most RBIs (1,389) and most runs (1,299) in Korean professional baseball history. Yang Jun-hyuk retired in 2010, much to the dismay of baseball fans nationwide.

More Info
• Manager: Ryu Jung-il
• Home Stadium: Daegu Citizen's Stadium (Baseball Stadium), Buk-gu, Daegu
• Directions: Daegu Station (Daegu Subway Line 1), Exit 1 or 2 (approx. 15 min from station)
• Homepage: http://www.samsunglions.com (Korean, English)

SK WYVERNS

While the KIA Tigers and Samsung Lions were the big names in baseball in Korea during the 1980s and 1990s, the SK Wyverns are fast becoming one of the best teams of the 21st century. So far, SK Wyverns dominated the 2000s and have climbed the ranks to become one of the top teams in the league.

Starting with its victory in the Korean Series in 2007, SK Wyverns has made it to the postseason each of the last six years, winning the Korean Series three times to the amazement of the nation's baseball followers. In the 2010 Korean Series, the SK Wyverns obliterated the Samsung Lions with a four game sweep. Of all the baseball teams in the league, the SK Wyverns are known for their rigorous training, which is one of the reasons for the team's quick rise to the top.

At the heart of the SK Wyverns was manager Kim Sung-keun who is called the "God of Baseball" in Korea. Kim, who was the oldest manager in the KBO (Korea Baseball Organization), led his team to a Korea Series victory right after joining the SK Wyverns in 2007. Since then, the team has continued to do well and is considered one of the best teams in the league. Kim retired in 2012, leaving the team to its current manager Lee Man-soo. It remains to be seen if Lee has what it takes to follow in the footsteps of the great legend Kim Sung-keun.

Meanwhile, the home stadium of the SK Wyverns boasts top-notch facilities and plenty of amenities for fans. Among the stadium's fan favorites are the Barbecue Zone and Green Zone where fans can have a picnic while watching the game.

More Info
• Manager: Lee Man-soo
• Home Stadium: Incheon Munhak Sports Complex (Incheon Worldcup Stadium), Nam-gu, Incheon
• Directions: Munhak Sports Complex Station (Incheon Subway Line 1), Exit 2
• Homepage: http://www.sksports.net/Wyverns/ (Korean, English)

HANHWA EAGLES

Founded in 1986 as the "Binggrae Eagles," the team changed its name to the "Hanwha Eagles" in 1993. Based in Daejeon, the Eagles are famous for the dynamic duo of Song Jin-woo and Jang Jong-hun. Song played on the team for 21 years (1989 to 2009), and holds the league all-time records for the most wins, most innings pitched, and most strike-outs. Jang was the king of homeruns for three years in a row in the early 1990s, earning him the nickname "Mr. Records."

After Song Jin-woo retired in 2009, pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin stepped onto the mound. During his rookie year in 2006, Ryu earned a pitcher's Triple Crown (most wins, the lowest ERA, and the most strike-outs), earning him the nickname of "Monster." Ryu started playing Major League Baseball for the LA Dodgers in 2013. Another known star is pitcher Park Chan-ho, who has an impressive 124 Major League Baseball wins and played on the Hanwha Eagles for a year before retiring on November 30, 2012.

Despite its many strong players, the Hanwha Eagles have only won the Korean Series in 1999.

More Info
• Manager: Kim Eung-yong
• Home Stadium: Hanbat Sports Complex (Baseball Stadium), Jung-gu, Daejeon
• Directions: Jungangno Station (Daejeon Subway Line 1), Exit 3, take Bus 604 and get off at the Hanbat Sports Complex / Jungangno Station, Exit 3, walk for about 15 minutes
• Homepage: http://www.hanwhaeagles.co.kr (Korean, English)

NEXEN HEROES

The Nexen Heroes are based in Seoul along with the Doosan Bears and the LG Twins. Ever since the team was founded in 1982, the Heroes faced a series of difficulties with changing ownership, hometowns, and names. Originally based in Incheon, the team moved to Suwon and went through different names like the Chongbo Pintos, the Taepyoungyang Dolphins, and the Hyundai Unicorns. The team finally settled in Seoul in 2008 and now plays under the name "Nexen Heroes."

Though not initially a solid team, the Nexen Heroes began to improve during their years as the Hyundai Unicorns in Suwon. Following their first Korean Series win in 1998, the team continued their hot streak, winning the series again in 2000, 2003, and 2004. Despite the sensation caused by the wins, the team was briefly dissolved due to the financial troubles of its sponsors (which caused the team to be reborn as the Nexen Heroes in 2008). Though the team lost popularity as a result of the constant changes, the players' can-do spirit has won them back some of their fans along with the hope that the team may return to their championship ways.

The Nexen Heroes currently have a few big names, most notably pitcher Kim Byung-hyun, who joined the team in 2012. As the first Korean pitcher to win a Major League Baseball World Series, Kim is at the center of the team's growing success. Also gaining attention is the team's slugger Park Byeong-ho, who claimed four hitting titles in the 2013 season, including home runs (37), RBIs (117), runs (91) and slugging percentage (.602).

More Info
• Manager: Yeom Kyung-yup
• Home Stadium: Mokdong Stadium, Yangcheon-gu, Seoul
• Directions: Omokgyo Station (Seoul Subway Station Line 5), Exit 3 or 4
• Homepage: http://www.heroes-baseball.co.kr (Korean)

NC DINOS

Based in Changwon, the NC Dinos are a newly founded team whose inaugural season with the Korean Baseball Organization was in 2013. After getting approval to create a new team in March 2011, the NC Dinos appointed the former Doosan Bears manager Kim Kyung-moon as its first manager the following August. Since then, the team has steadily expanded by recruiting players and organizing its coaching staff. In mid-January 2012, the team left for Arizona in the U.S. and Taiwan for a two-month long training period to prepare for the upcoming season.

In April 2012, the NC Dinos had their first official home game with the second string of the Lotte Giants and won 8 to 1, stirring up anticipation for their future performances. Although the NC Dinos finished 7th in their debut season, they showed relatively stable play and hope to show more promise in the future.

More Info
• Manager: Kim Kyung-moon
• Home Stadium: Masan Sports Complex, Masan Hoewon-gu, Changwon
(Address: 63, Samho-ro, Masan Hoewon-gu, Changwon-si, Gyeongsangnam-do)
• Directions: About 500 meters away from Masan Express Bus Terminal (approx. 5 minute walk)
• Homepage: http://www.ncdinos.com (Korean)

Korea Baseball Organization Homepage: http://www.koreabaseball.com (Korean)
Korea Tourism Organization Homepage: http://www.visitkorea.or.kr (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese, German, French, Spanish, Russian)
1330 Korea Travel Hotline: +82-2-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)

Last updated on December 13, 2013.
Managers & players subject to change.

Korea Tourism Organization website

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