Sunday, January 30, 2011

Me and the KBO, One Western Fan's Journey to K-Ball Fandom

January is coming to an end which means this KBO off season is that much closer to becoming aroma. And the NHL is mercifully on its pointless all star break. And that means that there is no excruciatingly frustrating Toronto Maple Leafs game to get mad about this Saturday night. What better way to celebrate this good turn of events than to put up another off season post on the best blog in cyberspace?

I am indeed a hockey and Toronto Maple Leafs fan mostly from my Canadian citizenship and upbringing. But as with all of us here that have connected with South Korea in whatever way and interested in sports, I have become very interested in pro baseball in Korea. I thought I'd take this off season weekend night and deviate from the usual survey of off season KBO news by describing my personal journey to becoming a fan of this league and uniquely Korean game.

My passport and cultural background is Canadian, but I am actually an ethnic Korean. I was born in Seoul, Korea in 1976 and moved to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada in 1982 with family. Memories of life as a baby in our Yeongdeungpo, Seoul apartment block involved a lot of things. I remember watching crazy kids' shows on TV named "Kiss Kiss Kiss" in Korean and something about a flying train. I was not sports literate at the age of 2, 3, 4, or 5. But I do remember some of the older kids in the 'hood throwing baseballs around with baseballs and gloves. This would serve as a important reference point.

I landed in Edmonton, Canada in '82. Hockey fans will know this is when Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers were just beginning to explode onto the hockey scene breaking records and scaring the NHL to absolute death with the threat of a bubbling dynasty which came true in the most horrific way (to opponents). I got caught up this new Canadian business and I am still a hockey fan to this day. And this is where my interest in pro sports began.

Growing up in Edmonton and other parts of Canada after, I had always wondered what the mother country was like and wanted to go back there to see how things were. At the same time, my hockey interests were causing me to become interested in other sports, mostly football and baseball. Baseball became interesting because I had a vague idea baseball was popular in Korea. I remember thinking quite a lot about baseball in Korea, imagining it to be the Asian equivalent to hockey and NHL in Canada.

This was maybe 1983, 1984, 1985. A few memories really stick out in my mind. I was in absolute awe that Asian people could play baseball. This was waaay before internet and any kind of info from somewhere else was very hard to come by. I could not see any pictures of Korean baseball anywhere, and the only proof of its existence was a vague "yeah, guess so" from my mother when I asked her if baseball was popular in Korea. From what I saw back then, white people played pro hockey, and white dudes and black dudes played pro baseball (I didn't conceive the idea of other races besides whites, blacks and "Orientals" at the time). I never saw Asian people playing pro sports and found it incredible to fathom.

Funny thing was, our family's "first" trip to Korea was 1993. Major League Baseball fans will note how the Blue Jays were the new talk of the Canadian sports scene at this time. Indeed the Jays were winning the World Series, and Toronto and the rest of Canada was on fire with Blue Jays fever, not unlike the Edmonton Oilers craze of the 80's that had just passed. At that moment in time, baseball was Canada's game, and hockey took a back seat. I was indeed very interested in seeing what Korean baseball was like after all those years in this backdrop.

So we landed at Kimpo Airport in July 1993, and I finally saw baseball on Korean TV. Actually, I finally saw Korea for basically the first time since I was a baby. Korea was indeed a fascinating place. Korean people were everywhere doing Korean things.

But this post and blog is about baseball, so regarding Korean baseball, yeah I saw it for the first time. We didn't go to any games, but we did see it on TV. I always wanted it on on the TV and saw in amazement. But I could not understand it. By this time I had completely forgotten the Korean language and I had no reference point in trying to figure out the Korean game. There was no Joe Carter or Roberto Alomar, it was a kind of disappointment. But I did notice that when we walked around Seoul in 1993, shops had Korean baseball playing from their TV's. And I noticed my little cousin naming off all the players he saw. So yeah, pro baseball was pretty popular in 1993 Korea.

Finished next post..


kylieandbrad said...

GDay Mate!! Ive been reading your column for many years since I was closing for Hanwha Eagles in 2008-2009.
Its great to finally get the background info on you and your passion for the KBO.
Thanks so much. I check your website daily now im back in MLB to see how the teams are going!
I am looking forward to returning to Korea and the KBO at some point! My time spent there was a highlight for all of my family!
Keep up the great writing!
Best Regards,
Brad Thomas

Sim'on 2057 said...

Hey dude, thanks for reading!! There's two of us here and Matt does most of it, you've been reading him for years not me. Any dirt on KBO players?? Good luck with the Tigers bro!! BTW do you know Adrian Burnside?

kylieandbrad said...

Yes! GDay to Matt too!!
yes I know Adrian. I actually just heard from him today via email.
whats the goss??