Thursday, Apr. 23, 2009

Pitcher Perfect

Best Night Out on a Budget

Forget about hot dogs. On a Sunday night, early in the professional league season, Seoul's Chamsil Stadium — the Fenway Park of South Korea — is packed with fans gnawing on long pieces of dried squid and watching what is rapidly becoming the country's favorite pastime. Ticket sales, according to the Korea Baseball Organization, are already up 21% this year from last, spurred by Korea's gold medal at the Beijing Games and a silver medal at last month's 2009 World Baseball Classic.

The Korean league may not bask in the history of the U.S. game, or boast the big money of the Japanese one, but fans only have to pay a mere $5 for regular admission. That's a steal. Whole families turn out. Cheerleaders get the fans chanting in unison. The sound of thundersticks — the oblong-shaped balloons now found at almost every major sports meet — fills the air.

There's even one way in which Korean baseball is superior to America's — as far as some spectators are concerned. Beer sales don't end at the seventh innings, like they do in most U.S. ballparks, meaning there's no mad rush to get that last cup. Just lean back and enjoy the fun. All that's missing is an anthem. "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" may not be a hit in South Korea, but the sentiments it expresses already are: "Take me out to the ball game/ Take me out with the crowd/ Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack/ I don't care if I never get back." You'd have to work dried squid in there somewhere, of course.