4th and a Mile With Paul Muth

How Korean baseball came to save me. Again.

Korean Baseball is a welcome sight for sports fans. Photo by Paul Muth.

On Monday ESPN announced that they would begin broadcasting games from the Korean Baseball Organization. With COVID-19 under greater control in the country, it was deemed okay for baseball to begin without fans. For the sports deprived fan worldwide, this became a welcome, if not unexpected reprieve.

This, however, was not the first time the KBO saved me.

So no joke there I was, 7000 miles away from Houston in The Land of the Morning Calm. I was six months into my one year of being stationed in Seoul, South Korea when I decided I wanted to go branch out into the local sports culture.

I explained to my Korean soldier roommate that I was interested in seeing a local soccer game, blindly assuming that because I wasn't in America that everyone would be really big into it.

"Do not go to football," he instructed.

"You will fall asleep."

Oh. Well then.

"I guess in that case, I was also kind of interested in checking out a Korean baseball game?" I acquiesced.

"YOU WILL LOVE KOREAN BASEBALL," he declared.

My interest was piqued. It was spring of 2011 and I hadn't seen an Astros game since the summer of 2009. I was overdue.

"Ok. Sell me"

"The tickets are cheap, and you can bring your own beer," he explained.

"SOLD. Who's your favorite team?" I asked.

"The LG Twins."

"And their rival?"

"The Doosan Bears."

That was the moment I became a Doosan Bears fan.

Soldiers are obnoxiously notorious homebodies for the most part, so finding someone willing to make this maiden journey and take the subway with me across town on a weeknight to go check out this suddenly intriguing event was no easy task. When my buddy Ricky agreed to go, we were off.

We stopped at a convenience store and bought one liter bottles of Powerade, dumped a quarter of it out and refilled it with Korea's devilishly sneaky native liquor known as soju (think a 30-proof vodka. Doesn't seem like much, but she creeps up on ya). Even with the full go ahead from my roommate to bring in booze, our American stadium-going brains just couldn't process the idea of walking it in without sneaking it or making it at least somewhat inconspicuous.

From there we hopped on the subway and made the hour long ride across the Han River to Jamsil Stadium, whose stopping point on the rail was cleverly identified as "Baseball Stadium."


Traveling over the Han River on the way to the game. Photo by Paul Muth.


Very clever station name. Photo by Paul Muth.

We exited the subway, and soon approached another convenience store at the foot of the staircase leading up to the stadium. As we continued discretely drinking in public, we watched and witnessed as groups of obviously well seasoned college-aged Korean fans instinctively headed straight to the store from the subway car. As six pack after six pack of Cass beer (essentially Korea's Bud Light) were scanned, they were immediately dumped into previously empty backpacks. These guys knew what they were doing, and my roommate was very obviously telling the truth. You can literally bring whatever you want into these games.


Jamsil Stadium entrance. Photo by Paul Muth.


The next step was to actually get some tickets. We waited in line and found row 5 field level seats along the first base line for a whopping 12,000 won. I'll save you the math; it was about $11 each.

Heading into the stadium itself we weren't exactly greeted with peanuts and cracker jacks as we had been raised on at the ball park. Instead, we were offered an enticing spread of dried squid jerky and fish cakes.


You know, normal baseball treats. Photo by Paul Muth.

Suffice it to say, we passed on the concessions and headed to our seats.

The stadium was by no means packed out for the weeknight game, but those who were there made their presence felt. Led by a male MC and five cheerleaders of sorts, the entire crowd joined in in unison, performing chant after chant as raucously as possible. It was a baseball game with a crowd that was simultaneously reminiscent of something you would hear during a Premiere League match. We had no idea what they were saying, but the environment and the energy was incredible.


Blurry Doosan Bears cheerleaders. Photo by Paul Muth.

To be honest, I couldn't tell you who won the game that night. I was too drunk off of soju and euphoria to even care. My roommate had vastly undersold the product he had introduced me to, partly because he didn't know what he was selling. I was hooked, and would continue going to games for the rest of the summer.

Much like it was nine years before, Korean Baseball -- as foreign and odd as it may seem -- represents today that shockingly scarce feeling of normalcy that has practically evacuated our lives. Back then I didn't care who the players were, or what their record was. I was content just being in a stadium, hearing a crack of the bat, and spending time with friends in the muggy spring and summer nights. Those three or four hours every other week or so were the closest I could get to a home that was on the other side of the planet.

That's what it continues to do. In two days of play, friendly wagers have already been made. My friend and I somewhat satirically created a Facebook group for ourselves and our fellow baseball starved degenerate friends (aptly named KBO (baseball starved) DIEHARDS). Team allegiances have been formed, and trash talking has commenced. It's a familiar attempt at finding that same sense of normalcy I had been trying to find once before.

So lean into it. Even if it seems weird, just let yourself be a fan again. Give yourself the opportunity to escape everything going on. Get your friends in on it. Names and stats and scores be damned. Sports are an escape, and for the first time in what seems like an eternity, if we allow ourselves to give something all too familiar -- and yet equally alien -- a shot...we might find just that once more.

Go Bears.

For a quick rundown of how the KBO works, how to pick a team, and when to watch the play, check out ESPN's KBO primer.

ESPN will be broadcasting one game daily. Local Korean broadcasts for each game can be found in the links below on Twitch and can be rewatched on demand:

https://www.twitch.tv/kbo1

https://www.twitch.tv/kbo2

https://www.twitch.tv/kbo3

https://www.twitch.tv/kbo4

https://www.twitch.tv/kbo5

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Martin Truex Jr. won his 2nd race of the season last week. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

NASCAR returns to the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway. This is the first of two races here at this track as they will race on Sunday afternoon. This will be different from the normal night race they usually have here as this will definitely affect the racing surface considering how much the sun could make the track slick. It should be a fun race come Sunday.

Last week, Martin Truex Jr. passed Denny Hamlin to capture his second win of the season after rain moved the race to Sunday. He became the first driver to win multiple races after a fierce battle with his teammate Denny Hamlin. The race was filled with tons of wrecks including a fifteen car pileup including Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. It was one of the better races of the season as there was lots of beating and banging.

The race was not without controversy but not the kind you would expect. Early in the race Rick Ware Racing teammates Cody Ware and James Davison were involved in an altercation. The two were battling towards the back of the pack when Ware decided to drive through his teammate in turn four. The race got much worse for Cody Ware as he was involved in three more cautions all throughout the race. Many people around the sport were quite perturbed by his antics including broadcaster Mike Joy as he was audibly annoyed after Ware spun out later in the race. Many have questioned if the fifth-year driver should even be in the car and overall I can understand why some of those people think that. In his five years of driving, he has finished on the lead lap one time. I hope that he is able to figure it out and find success in the future, but this was not a good look.

The slump continues for two-time champion Kyle Busch

Throughout the race, Busch was running okay for the most part but towards the closing laps of the race he and Chris Buescher got together triggering a fifteen car pileup. Despite all this, he was able to rebound to a respectable tenth place finish. This has been more than likely the toughest stretch of his career since his championship in 2019. Many would say that the omission of Practice and Qualifying has really affected his performance. Whatever the issue is, this team really needs to find some speed, or he could be in danger of missing the playoffs. I look for this team to bounce back considering how talented he is.

Prediction

The driver that I have winning this week is Kyle Larson. This has been an incredible rebound season for Larson as he currently sits fourth in points. He is also second in laps led only to Denny Hamlin. Richmond has been a great track for him as it fits his driving style perfectly as he can run the outside line and find grip where others can't. This track is also rather sentimental to him considering he won his first pole award here during his rookie season in 2014. While he may not have the results he would want he has always been extremely fast here and even won back in 2017. I look for him to capture his second victory of 2021 come Sunday.

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