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South Korean baseball offers fans 9 rounds of cheers, songs and dances

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SEOUL — Before heading to the ballpark to cheer on his favorite team, the Kiwoom Heroes, Serim Cha always checks the day’s roster and searches YouTube so he can practice each player’s custom choreography. well done.

“I know the songs of the regular players, but sometimes there’s a player whose joy isn’t as well known,” the 28-year-old office worker explained. “Dancing and singing together for the players is so much fun. It’s like, as fans, we’re all united. We know the players can hear us and pick up our energy.

Baseball games in South Korea are about more than hits, runs, and outs. They’re akin to raucous rock concerts where what’s happening on the pitch can seem secondary to the manic energy of the bleachers. Fans are so immersed in their collective performance that it’s not until a whistle signals a foul ball that many look up to play air guitars – and duck if necessary.

Lotte Giants fans, known for their passionate cheering, sing a team song at Sajik Baseball Stadium in Busan. (Video: Michelle Lee/The Washington Post)

Cheerleaders and mascots sparkle, wave and clap alongside the “masters of joy,” who lead the crowd through a player’s signature song and remind fans of the accompanying moves. The tunes are usually Korean and American hits – “Happy Together” and “Let’s Twist Again” are two vintage favorites – and they’re so central to the game that when cheering was banned during the coronavirus pandemic, some players complained they had trouble concentrating without the noise.

Most fans don’t need advice though; they already know the songs and steps by heart. And they’re up every inning – without needing the seventh inning of American baseball.

“That’s obviously what jumps out at you, all the fan passion,” said Mark Lippert, a former US ambassador to South Korea whose enthusiasm for Korean baseball is so well-known that people are asking for selfies with it. him at the stadium. He prepares for the cheers of his favorite Doosan Bears by watching videos. “You have this really fascinating game going on, and at the same time, you have this huge concert where the players’ cheering songs are known by heart to the fans.”

The fervor for these games has deep roots.

The Korea Baseball Organization was established in 1982 by dictator Chun Doo-hwan, a military general who had taken power three years earlier. A bloody uprising for democratization in 1980 sparked demonstrations challenging the new government. Chun introduced cultural reforms in an effort to divert public attention from politics – sports were one of his hobbies – and in 1982 he established the country’s professional baseball league.

The league tapped into the intense fan base at high school baseball games nationwide, where group cheers had become popular in the 1970s as the country continued to industrialize in the wake of the Korean War. . The cheering was a way for Koreans who had moved to cities for jobs and other opportunities to express their longing for home, said Yongbae Jeon, a professor in the sports management department at Dankook University in Yongin. , in South Korea.

Lotte Giants cheering master Cho Ji-hoon leads the team’s fans at Sajik Baseball Stadium. He has held his position for 17 years. (Video: Michelle Lee/The Washington Post)

Real cheerleading emerged in the 1980s with the introduction of sports leagues, Jeon said, and by 1990 teams began developing marketing strategies around it all. In the early 2000s, personalized cheers for each player began.

“Korean professional baseball is collective, passionate and dynamic. It’s also empathetic,” Jeon said. “Korean people have a culture of ‘heung’, which is to sing and clap together with passion. … Korea’s cheering culture has the power to make even people who don’t like baseball like baseball at the stadium.

Kiwoom Heroes fan Yong-bin Jo said he sometimes attends their matches to relieve stress, as winning or losing is less important than being with other fans sweating together in the bleachers. But in last Saturday’s semi-final between the Heroes and the KT Wiz, Jo only wanted one thing.

“I will do my best, I will give all my power to encourage the players so that they can win,” he said, as he and his wife helped each other into their team shirts at the outside the stadium.

Going into the ninth inning, the Heroes were leading 4-3. From the Wiz fan side of the stadium, a song rang out: “Hit, hit, hit, hit. Please hit the ball, please hit the ball. A home run would be nice too!

On the other side, the master of hero cheers urged his crowd to go louder and louder. “Hit, hit”, chanted everyone.

The stands may have fought to a draw, but the heroes ultimately won on the pitch. The final series of championships will take place next month.

Fans sing to applaud Lee Dae-ho, a South Korean baseball legend who spent his entire Korean baseball career with his hometown team, the Lotte Giants. (Video: Michelle Lee/The Washington Post)

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