I did it. I suited up, put on some spikes, tipped my Dodgers hat and took the field. On Sunday, I played in my first baseball game in Korea.
It was a practice game of sorts that was not actually on a field but rather a big dirt space usually used for soccer. It kinda had a mound. It kinda had a backstop. It kinda had foul lines. It was kind of a baseball diamond.
I played with a group of guys between the ages of 27 and 42 against a team with the same demographics. They were all Koreans, they all smoked in between innings and they all loved playing baseball. The warm-up drills were formally done with batting practice and ground balls to go with it. Everyone had matching uniforms and expensive gear. Pep talks were given with vigor and we even lined up before the game and bowed to the opposing team.
I felt exhilarated. I came from playing in an old-man-softball-league where everyone crushed Keystones, cussed at each other and the idea of a bat-in-hand brawl breaking out always loomed.
Here, respect for the other team and the game comes first.
Our team, Khazon, scored 7 runs in the first inning while I walked and scored on a double. I then played first base. The idea being that I grew up playing baseball so I could at least catch a ball. I liked it. The pitcher tried a few pick off plays and the other team tried speaking English every time they reached first.
It was a perfect way to spend my Sunday. But, after about the fifth inning, and after I had hit an RBI-double and popped out, (4-hours and 15-minutes after I arrived at the ballpark) boredom struck. Everyone stopped talking to me because they had used up all of their English vocabulary and first base is historically a boring position reserved for non-athletic lefties and fat dudes.
But in the sixth, inspiration struck. From the on-deck circle I realized that the bases were loaded when one of my teammates said, "Mark, hit ball fast." I said OK and strolled to the plate. The pitcher had gotten me out my last time up and he looked confident. (Poor guy)
He threw a first pitch fastball. Strike. Then he shook off the catcher's pitch call and smirked. (Again, poor guy) I knew he was going to try his curve. The pitcher reached back, legged kicked like his hip spasmed and floated up a very weak pitch that spun furiously without curving or moving fast.
I crushed it. A grand slam.
While jogging around the bases, everyone on the other team came to a base to high-five me. My team had a high-five line at the plate and the pitcher even gave me a bow after he was taken out of the game. They gave me the ball after and even when I told them it was not necessary, they refused to have it back.
I hit another home-run on my next at-bat and the same parade went down. To be honest, I got a kick out of how excited they got but this is nothing to brag about. The bat I used would have been illegal in American high schools because it was too light and both pitchers were pretty much beginners. I actually felt kind of bad about it after because my RBI's alone put the game out of reach.
The whole day ended up being a very unique and touching experience. The players really went of their way to make sure I was having a good time and to see how passionate they were about a game that is generally taken for granted in the states, was humbling. Most of these guys have only been playing for a few years and even take baseball lessons as adults during the week to get better.
After the game I was called the hero of the day and received many congratulatory hugs.
And to think, it was only a practice game.
Get Lost my friends....