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Korean baseball, past and present

From the crack of the bat to the delighted roars of a crowd on its feet, little comes close to the excitement of a night out at a ballgame. Koreans’ passion for the sport is no different, a fact that may have come as a surprise to spectators around the world who witnessed the historic gold medal win by the Korean national baseball team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Four years later, as a large number of Korea’s players continue to hone their talents in major overseas leagues and Korea’s fans continue to flock to their local stadiums by the tens of thousands, baseball fever shows no signs of slowing.

The number of spectators attending Korea's professional baseball games reached 6 million people for the second season in a row. Pictured are fans at a baseball game in 1973 at Dongdaemun Stadium (left) and fans at Jamsil Stadium in 2012 (right) (photos: Ministry of Public Administration and Security, Yonhap News). The number of spectators attending Korea's professional baseball games reached 6 million people for the second season in a row. Pictured are fans at a baseball game in 1973 at Dongdaemun Stadium (left) and fans at Jamsil Stadium in 2012 (right) (photos: Ministry of Public Administration and Security, Yonhap News).


For the love of the game: record numbers, young talent

For the second year in a row, the number of spectators attending Korea’s professional baseball games this year has topped 6 million people, reported the Korean Baseball Organization. The 6-million mark was reached this year by the 419th game of the current season, compared to the 466th game during last season. An average 73.8% of seats have been filled at each game, with leading teams counting up to 86.2% of seats filled on average, and up-and-comer Hanwha seeing a 37% increase in attendance from 2011.

Also this year, Seoul’s main baseball stadiums in Jamsil and Mokdong hosted youth teams from twelve countries, including the United States, Taiwan, Japan, and Australia for the 25th International Baseball Federation Under-18 Baseball World Championship.

Korea played against the United States on day 2 of the IBAF 18U Baseball World Championship on September 1. The competition will continue until September 8 (photo courtesy of the Korea Baseball Association). Korea played against the United States on day 2 of the IBAF 18U Baseball World Championship on September 1. The competition will continue until September 8 (photo courtesy of the Korea Baseball Association).


The weeklong competition, for which Seoul is playing host for the first time since 1982, will culminate in a high-energy final match on the evening of September 8. Before a winner can emerge, however, spectators will first have to await the outcome of a much-anticipated match between the Korean and Japanese teams.
 
Former president Syngman Rhee throws a pitch at Dongdaemun Stadium during a visit by an American team (photo courtesy of the Ministry of Public Administration and Security).

Former Korean President Syngman Rhee throws a pitch at Dongdaemun Stadium during a visit by the St. Louis Cardinals (photo courtesy of the Ministry of Public Administration and Security).

In a situation somewhat reminiscent of the recent London Olympic soccer semifinals, both teams will be playing for one of three spots in the final round, with Korea having lost to defending champion Taiwan on Wednesday, and Japan having similarly lost to Colombia.

A look back at baseball in Korean history

On National Baseball Day, designated on August 23 to commemorate the 2008 Olympic baseball victory, the National Archives of Korea released various records, including photos and videos that show how baseball has been enjoyed in Korea since first being introduced over 100 years ago.

Focusing in particular on the period between the 1950s and the 1970s, the 43 items in the collection attest to the role of baseball as a festive pastime that allowed families and communities to take their minds off of the stresses and burdens of widespread social change, engage friends and rivals in friendly competition, and simply have a good time.

Among the records from the 1950s are scenes of friendly matches with teams from Taiwan and the United States as well as games that were held with visiting Korean-Japanese students beginning in 1956. One 1957 image depicts a game between ruling and opposition party congressmen, while yet another catches a moment in a game held on the Gyeongbokgung lawn between officials in the legislative and executive branches.

A 1959 shot shows professionals in the broadcasting, film, publishing, and music industries gathering for informal competitions, and another from 1958 shows then-President Syngman Rhee throwing the opening pitch at Dongdaemun Stadium during a match with the visiting St. Louis Cardinals.

A still shot from the National Archives of Korea show the Korean national baseball team after winning the 1963 Asian Baseball Championship (left). The Korean team participating in the IBAF 18U Baseball World Championship will play against Japan for a spot in the final round on September 6 (photos courtesy of the Ministry of Public Security and Administration and Yonhap News). A still shot from the National Archives of Korea show the Korean national baseball team after winning the 1963 Asian Baseball Championship (left). The Korean team participating in the IBAF 18U Baseball World Championship will play against Japan for a spot in the final round on September 6 (photos courtesy of the Ministry of Public Security and Administration, Yonhap News).


In the records from the 1960s, Korean baseball has expanded its reach, and one video shows the Korean national team after winning the 1963 Asian Baseball Championship. Around the same time, famous Japanese league player and future Japanese Baseball Hall-of-Famer Jang Hun, an ethnic Korean and second-generation Korean-Japanese who went by Isao Harimoto in Japan, paid a visit to his mother country. A video from 1963 captures the then-novel sight of a friendly game among students in various departments at Ewha Womans University.

The records from the 1970s and on show the increasing popularity of amateur baseball, with alumni and local residents showing up to cheer on the young stars of various school leagues at games across the nation. A photo from 1975 records a visit to Gyeongsangbuk-do (North Gyeongsang Province) by a Korean-Japanese team, while another shows the return of the Korean national team after winning against the United States in Nicaragua to secure the 1977 Intercontinental Cup.

Korea's first professional baseball teams march into Dongdaemun Stadium in 1982 for a ceremony celebrating the launch of the Korean Professional Baseball League. At the front of the procession are players for the Lotte Giants (photo courtesy of the Ministry of Public Security and Administration).Korea's first professional baseball teams march into Dongdaemun Stadium in 1982 for a ceremony celebrating the launch of the Korean Professional Baseball League. At the front of the procession are players for the Lotte Giants (photo courtesy of the Ministry of Public Security and Administration).


The records show the continuing progress on renovations to Dongdaemun Stadium, which in 1982 hosted a ceremony to commemorate the launch of the Korean Professional Baseball League, headed by the Korea Baseball Organization. The image shows the procession of the first players and teams to participate in the league.

“In commemoration of National Baseball Day, we hope that these records will provide an opportunity for us to remember and appreciate the place of baseball in Korean history, as having been with the Korean people through many sorrows and joys,” said Chu Gyeong-gyun, head of the Archives Information Service Bureau of the National Archives of Korea.

By Kwon Jungyun
Korea.net Staff Writer

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