It is 5:00am in the morning and usually when you wake up at this time, you are just waking a from a good night’s sleep and ready to steel yourself to begin another day in lockdown. Except that instead of watching re-runs of classic games or binging on Netflix, you have a new obsession that is going on live 6,000 miles away. Korean Baseball, or better known as KBO.
In a country that is better known to most Americans for tae kwon do, kimchee—or kimchi—depending on your level of fake cultural snob, KIA, Samsung, Hynduai—and if you’re either the parent of a pre-teen or a Millennial—the ultra-popular K-pop group, BTS, KBO is not your dad’s or grandpa’s baseball, but a Korean-BBQ style twist on our national pastime, Gangnam-style!
One thing that is sure to cause a real culture shock amongst baseball purists is that a majority of KBO clubs are named after the companies that bought naming rights, along with their corporate patches and logos on them in addition to cheerleaders. Yes! they have cheerleaders in Korean baseball. Imagine the YES Network Yankees vs. the Dunkin Red Sox or the Busch Cardinals taking on the Tribune Cubs on ESPN. You get the picture. Yet, with the size, scope, money and influence of mega-corporations in sports, KBO could be a prelude of what American sports could turn into.
But aside from the corporate-named teams and cheerleaders, KBO has a unique spice and style all its own, as many of the current players are former MLB stars, champions and prospects such as former Washington Nationals manager—and current Kia Tigers skipper, Matt Williams, Samsung Lions IF Tyler Saladino (Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago White Sox), LG Twins SP Tyler Wilson (Baltimore Orioles) and Lotte Giants hitting coach, Julio Franco (Atlanta Braves).
While the KBO is a relatively young baseball league compared to MLB, many baseball fans are already familiar with it and it’s talent thanks to the World Baseball Classic and Korean imports such as Kim Byung-Hyun* (Arizona Diamondbacks), Chan Ho Park* (Philadelphia Phillies), Choo Shin-soo* (Texas Rangers) and Hyun-jin Ryu* (Toronto Blue Jays).
(Editor’s Note: In Korean culture, the family surname is using first, as opposed to the given first name. Example, Shin-soo Choo in the United States would be Choo Shin-soo in Korea.)
Being a lifelong Cleveland Indians fan, following and seeing both Williams’ exploits halfway across the world and what Choo’s time here in Cleveland has already made me a Kia supporter—who are also the most successful KBO club with 11 Korean Series titles—and newfound fan of the KBO.
One thing that has always stood out about both Korean culture and baseball players are their discipline, fundamentals, passion and professionalism both at the plate and on the mound. With the COVID-19 pandemic keeping a lot of the world inside, many are finally getting a chance to see both a rising power in international baseball, a beautiful country and a unique Asian fusion on American baseball.
In the age of multi-culturalism and globalism, now might be the best time to learn some Hangul, develop a taste for Korean cuisine and learn the names of BTS, because with KBO coming into the lives of American homes, the American-Korean cross-cultural wave is coming.
As a lifelong Asiaphile,and anime otaku, I’ve always been fascinated and intrigued with Korea, it’s history and culture. Now that I am waking up to catch KBO on ESPN, let’s just say that I’ve already booked my ticket—and passport to Korea to hopefully catch a series in person post-COVID.
Gwangju, here I come!
Baseball is us. It is the fabric that has always defined this great country of ours for generations. Our normal routines and lives have been changed and altered due to the coronavirus, but if there is one thing, humanity excels at is adapting. So instead of normally watching baseball on the traditional Sunday afternoons, now we must wake up in the early morning to get our fix, to attach ourselves to something that we deem as normal.
Next time you find yourself waking up early, make sure that before you tune in to watch some KBO on your LG or Samsung UHD 4K TV that you set your DVR before going on a Target run for in your Kia SUV. Gotta make it back for that SK Wyverns-NC Dinos game.