On Major League Baseball’s Opening Day, I bring sobering news: Korean baseball fans are better than American baseball fans. I just got back from a trip to Korea, and one of the highlights was attending a game between the Doosan Bears and the LG Twins at Seoul’s Jamsil Stadium. It was a preseason game, so it didn’t even count, yet based on the energy of the fans, you would have thought it was a playoff game. Here’s why they’re better fans than we are.
They sing. All the time.
Every hitter has a song, and there are songs for the team overall. We didn’t know the words, obviously, but we recognized some of the tunes. One of the main Doosan songs had the melody of “Bad Case of Loving You,” by Robert Palmer. One of the Twins’ tunes was “It’s a Small World.” And one player’s song had the melody of “Surfin’ USA” by the Beach Boys, with the women fans singing one part and the men singing the other. Think about how fun it is when everyone at an American game joins together to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” during the seventh-inning stretch. Why wait? Why only sing once?
The fans sang regardless of what was happening on the field. But it wasn’t because they weren’t paying attention. It was because they took it as their responsibility to keep the energy up at all times. This is the most important lesson American fans should learn. You’ll hear TV announcers say things like, “The Yankees haven’t given their fans much to cheer about today.” No. That statement confuses cause and effect. Korean fans always have something to cheer about. They know that the game does not owe them excitement. They’re fans. It’s their job—their privilege—to cheer.
They have embraced the full aesthetic potential of the Thunderstick.
Thundersticks are those inflatable French-fry-looking things that you can bang together to make noise. In American sports, they’re most often waved to distract free-throw shooters at basketball games. But they can do so much more. Many of the songs at a Korean baseball game have corresponding moves the fans do with their Thundersticks: They raise them up, cross them, angle them this way and that. A Thunderstick in each hand can do so much more than, say, a pom-pom or a towel. Thousands of Thundersticks working in unison is a sight to behold.
They follow the leader. You might be wondering how all of these fans get on the same page, how they know when to bust the proper Thunderstick move. It’s because there’s one guy—part MC, part head cheerleader, all crazy—who stands on a platform set up at the front of the main seating section, about two-thirds of the way down the foul line, leading the cheers. He’s got a microphone and some goofy dance moves. He’s accompanied by a DJ, a couple of dudes pounding huge drums, and a troop of four or five women dancers in very short shorts.
American sports other than baseball have embraced the short-shorted cheerleader, and I’m sure there are those among you who cringe at the thought of baseball cheerleaders. But the dancers are actually the least important element. The drummers and the MC are essential. Any fan of the Oakland A’s or the Cleveland Indians—who have long-established fan-drumming traditions—can attest to the visceral power of drums. Huge, traditional Asian drums bring even more power. Real drums are always better than drum beats piped over the PA system. Every team should have them.
Likewise, having one guy out there shamelessly being the best fan he can be is so much better than an anonymous scoreboard flashing messages like “Let’s Go Mets,” at you and hoping you join in.
They do all this, but do not do Dot Racing.
For those of you who think that all of this is beneath the dignity of baseball or that it somehow distracts from the game, let me point out what did not happen at the Korean baseball game. There were no instant replays on the scoreboard. You had to actually watch the game as it happened. Between innings, there were no Dot Races, or Chevron Car Races, or Follow the Ball Under the Cap games on the scoreboard. There were no contests pitting giant-headed creatures or mascots or sausages against each other. (The Twins did have mascots, but they seemed to mostly mingle with the fans.) The players warmed up, then they played. And we all started singing again.
Seoul’s Jamsil Stadium is the home of both the Doosan Bears and the LG Twins. It’s located right at the Sports Complex Metro stop. I was able to buy tickets before the game at the stadium box office. When you buy them, you choose which team’s fans you want to sit with—another thing that makes the experience more fun.