April 17, 2024

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‘Play Ball’ In South Korea Means 9 Innings Of Cheers, Songs And Dancing

4 min read
‘Play Ball' In South Korea Means 9 Innings Of Cheers, Songs And Dancing

SEOUL — Before she heads to the ballpark to root for her favorite team, the Kiwoom Heroes, Serim Cha always checks the day’s roster and searches YouTube so she can practice each player’s personalized and choreographed cheer.

“I know the regular players’ songs, but sometimes there’s a player whose cheer is not as well known,” the 28-year-old office worker explained. “It’s so much fun to perform music and dance for the players. We all seem to be working together as fans. We’re aware that the players can hear us and feel our enthusiasm.”

In South Korea, baseball games involve much more than just hits, runs, and outs. They resemble rowdy rock shows where the chaos in the stands can overshadow what is happening on the field. Only when a whistle signals a foul ball do many fans look up from playing air guitars, and they can then duck if necessary. Fans are so engrossed in their collective performance.

Cheerleaders and mascots shimmy, wave and clap alongside “cheer masters,” who guide the crowd through a player’s signature song and remind fans of the accompanying moves. The tunes typically are Korean and American hits — “Happy Together” and “Let’s Twist Again” are two of the vintage favorites — and they’re so core to the game that when cheering was banned during the coronavirus pandemic, some players complained that they struggled to focus without the noise.

However, most fans don’t need any instruction because they already know the songs and dance moves by heart. As a result, there is no need for American baseball’s seventh-inning stretch because they are always standing.

“It’s obviously what jumps out, all of the passion of the fans,” said US government official Mark Lippert ambassador to He is a South Korean baseball fan who is so well-known for his love of the sport that fans frequently approach him at games to take selfies with him. He watches videos to get ready for his preferred Doosan Bears to cheer. “At the same time as this incredibly fascinating game is taking place, a sizable concert is taking place, and the crowd is singing along to the cheers of the players.”

The passion for these games is deeply ingrained.

‘Play Ball' In South Korea Means 9 Innings Of Cheers, Songs And Dancing

Chun Doo-hwan, a military general and dictator who had seized control three years earlier, founded the Korean Baseball Organization in 1982. Protests against the new government began in 1980 following a bloody democratization uprising. In an effort to divert public attention from politics, Chun instituted cultural reforms. One of his diversionary strategies was sports, and in 1982 he established the national professional baseball league.

The league took advantage of the passionate support at high school baseball games across the nation, where group cheering had become common during the 1970s as the nation continued to industrialize in the wake of the Korean War. According to Yongbae Jeon, a professor in the department of sports management at Dankook University in Yongin, South Korea, the cheers were a way for Koreans who had relocated to cities for employment and other opportunities to express their homesickness.

With the advent of sports leagues in the 1980s, actual cheerleaders began to appear, according to Jeon, and in 1990, teams began creating marketing plans around the whole thing. The individual cheers for each player started in the early 2000s.

“Baseball is played in a unified, passionate, and dynamic way in Korea. It’s also empathetic,” Jeon said. “The Korean people have a culture known as “heung,” which involves enthusiastic group singing and cheering. … Even baseball haters can enjoy watching a game in a stadium thanks to the Korean cheering tradition.”

Yong-bin Jo, a fan of Kiwoom Heroes, claimed that he occasionally goes to their matches as a form of stress relief, with winning or losing being less important than spending time with other supporters as they battle it out in the stands. But Jo had one goal in mind for the Heroes vs. KT Wiz semifinal elimination game this past Saturday.

“I will do my best, give all of my power, to cheer for the players so they can win,” he said, as he and his wife helped each other put on their team jerseys outside the stadium.

The Heroes were in the lead 4-3 in the top of the ninth inning. From the Wiz fans’ side of the stadium, a song-cheer rang out: “Please hit the ball, please, please, hit the ball. A home run would also be beneficial!”

The Heroes cheerleader on the opposing side exhorted the crowd to cheer louder and harder. “Strike out, strike out,” everyone chanted.

Even though the fight in the stands ended in a tie, the Heroes emerged victorious on the playing field. The last championship series will occur the following month.

Reference: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2022/10/26/south-korea-baseball-fans-cheers/

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