Monday, April 20, 2009

Korean Baseball, Week 3

Mokdong Stadium
Three weekends, three baseball games. I know I said I wouldn't go this weekend, but you gotta understand--it's really inexpensive, convenient, and fun. With the usual suspects, I attended the Lotte Giants (from Busan) hosted by the Seoul Heroes, in Mokdong. Just a hop, skip and a jump from Deungchon-dong.

A quick cab ride to Dangsan Station (W4000), one stop to Yeongdeungpo-gu Office, transfer to the blue line for two stops to Omokgyo (W900), then a short walk. Well, not all that short, about fifteen minutes. General admission ticket, W9000. 16 oz beer, W3000. Total cost, up to first beer: W16,900 (USD 12.31). Even cheaper if I take the bus instead of a cab.

Compare that to a Braves game--and believe me, I'm not knocking the Bravos, or the Ted, here: 40 mi. drive by car @$0.35/mi. (USD 14.00). Parking, USD 5.00. Aggravation, priceless. Fifteen minute walk, if you find a really close lot. Cheap seats, USD 8.00. 16 ouncer, USD 6.00. Total cost: USD 33.00. And the price differential escalates with each additional beer, should I choose to have more than one, that is...

Now, you can argue that the quality of play is much better in the States, and of course it is. But whenever you have two evenly-matched teams, there will be some excitement. The Heroes are leading the league at the moment, and did not disappoint, as their bats awoke in the bottom of the third and drilled in four runs, sparked by a two-RBI stand-up triple down the first base line. Or so I'm told, as I chose the ten minutes of these events to take a smoke break.

Mokdong stadium holds 15,000 fans, home of the Seoul Heroes. They were the Woori Heroes last year (and the Hyundai Unicorns the year before last), but the company (the tobacco Woori, not the financial Woori) dropped its sponsorship for this season. Korean baseball teams are unabashedly controlled by the 'chaebol' that run things here--LG Twins, SK Wyverns, KIA Tigers, etc.

Salaries are pretty stable across the board, but are very low, in relative terms. This Korea Times article brags that over 100 Korean players will earn "nine digits" this season--the high figure quoted in the article is about USD 175,000; the average player makes around W85 million (USD 62,000). In comparison, the average player in the Japanese league earns 17 times more. This Chosun Ilbo story complains that at USD 375,000, the foreign player cap is set too low--each team is allowed two foreigners in the line-up.

I am not arguing that pro athletes should make more money--far from it. In fact, the absurd money "earned" by American athletes is a clear symptom of our American decline. And I see no reason that the American taxpayer should subsidize it--we do, you know. Our municipalities build stadia that will never pay for themselves and give hundreds of millions in tax breaks to the billionaire owners of our teams, which they can use to pay the athletes obscene money--the American sports market is totally socialist. Leave Obama alone and go after the Falcons/Yankees/Lakers!

Indeed, it looks to me like the Korean remuneration system has it about right--the baseball league has a parity that the Americans can only dream of: each of the eight teams has won the championship at least once (and all but the Hanhwa Eagles twice or more) in the league's quarter-century of existence. Eleven of the fifteen K-League soccer teams have won the title since its 1983 inception.

The downside of this is that the best Korean talent makes its way overseas. Man U is so popular here largely because 박지성 Park Ji-sung plays right wing at Old Trafford. Last week, the faculty lunchroom had a Japanese baseball game playing--I wondered why, until I learned there was a Korean pitcher in the game!

Andy, Nick, noisemakers, Hyperion Tower A
The Heroes are a little bit disorganized, and perhaps underfunded, as the fans had virtually no noisemakers at the start of the game. By the middle of the second inning, however, someone had noticed this and started giving away inflatable noisemakers. You can see the pair I snagged in the photo above. You can also see Andy and Nick. You can further see the tall building in the background, Hyperion Tower A, which is the second tallest building in Korea. 63 Building is NOT the tallest building in Korea, it is only the third tallest, despite what you will hear from almost everybody.

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