Day One – September 6, 2023
Our inaugural South Korea baseball tour is underway! We have a great crew here, a nice kid of veteran JapanBallers and enthusiastic rookies.
We kicked things off with a Korean-style BBQ pork dinner. This place specializes in three cuts of pork: belly, chops, and jowl. Refreshing beer and soju, too. The restaurant is right next to historic Songnyemun, the beautiful southern gate to the ancient Seoul fortress, so we stopped by for a quick photo opp and a preview of more of the city’s ancient cultural sites that we would see on day 2. Now it’s time to get some rest before a big first full day!
Day Two – September 7, 2023
We had a full day of sightseeing before our first KBO game. We went to Gwanghwamun Square, where there are some epic statues of Korea’s most beloved general and king, and Gyeongbokgung Palace, the primary royal residence. Our tour guide for the day, Hyun, did a fantastic job teaching us about Korea’s history along the way.
Then, it was finally time for our first KBO game! We took the subway and a bus ride to kt wiz Park in Suwon, where we had a matchup between the KBO’s top two teams: the LG Twins and the KT Wiz.
We sat in the kt cheering section, and wow – I have never seen such consistent energy at a baseball game before! The game was a fusion of baseball with a K-pop show and a jazzercise class! It was a very young crowd, lots of females, and constant high-energy singing and dancing. Every out and hit were treated like a home run in MLB and runs scored were treated with absolute hysteria. Cheerleaders and dancers atop the dugout kept the crowd going all game long on each team’s respective side (the crowd was about a 50-50 split). The opposing teams now only had access to specific cheering and cheerleading sections but also were allowed to set up a merchandise booth in the team store!
The game had plenty of action, with the teams combining for 26 hits and 15 runs, plus a benches-clearing confrontation, but it was the crowd that made it fun. Even down big in the 8th and 9th, the kt faithful sang and danced ‘til the end!
Day Three – September 8, 2023
We had a super-interesting sightseeing morning and early afternoon, taking a tour of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) around the North/South Korean border. I have never visited such a politicized and militarized tourist attraction! We learned about the history of North and South Korea, visited various memorials, viewpoints, and other sites, and we capped it off with a long descent into a narrow tunnel that was dug by the North Koreans as an inroad to invade the South. This is one of four tunnels found by the South Koreans, but it is believed that there are many more! Although this is a tourist site, it is still a potentially strategic tunnel in what is still an active war. It was interesting how this has been made into a tourist destination, but I suppose most tourist attractions are exploiting something in some way.
Then, it was off to Jamsil Stadium for a game between the Samsung Lions and the host Doosan Bears. Jamsil is the main stadium in Seoul and is home to both the Bears and LG Twins. And it was rocking! Again, the crowd was about 50/50 for both teams. With so many teams based in the greater Seoul area, I’m getting the impression this must be very typical. And if we thought the crowd was into it last night – wow – the energy was even bigger tonight! Pretty much half of the entire stadium was singing and dancing each pitch in unison and then going wild with even the smallest thing. It was a back-and-forth game with lots of hitting, and the home team ended up walking it off in the bottom of the 9th in comeback fashion! It was pretty awesome to be on their side when they came back and got the win. Wow, what a game and what a day!
Day Four – September 9, 2023
Today was a baseball off-day. After two full days, we got to sleep in and also have the night off. We went to another palace today, Changdeokgung, which is known to be built in the unique Korean style and incorporates the landscape and topography better than any other Korean palace. We booked a tour of the “secret garden” where kings and queens had their little oasis in Seoul for hundreds of years. The many trees and waterways were a great respite from the heat!
We also visited Bukchon, which is a residential town full of traditional “hanok” Korean houses. These were the most desired homes of old-time Seoul, with an elite spot atop a hill in the city and beautiful architecture. The houses are still occupied, but the residents make the area accessible to tourists. The steep hill, beautiful homes, and meandering tourists reminded me of Lombard Street in San Francisco.
What would a trip to Korea be without bulgogi (thin, marinated beef)? We dined at a mom-and-pop bulgogi jungol spot, and accompanied our meals with cups of mageolli, which is an effervescent, cloudy, and refreshing sort of rice wine. It really hit the spot in the late-summer heat and humidity!
Day Five – September 10, 2023
That’s a wrap on our first-ever South Korea baseball tour! Huge thanks to our eight adventurous guests for joining and to our excellent on-the-ground helpers, Daesung and Jeong-hyun!
Our final game was at the Gocheok SkyDome, where the 2024 MLB Opening Series between the Dodgers and Padres will be. We saw yet another high-scoring, back-and-forth affair, this time between the host Kiwoom Heroes and Hanwha Eagles. We had amazing seats in the Royal Diamond Club, directly behind home plate. We were also allowed on the field before the game. It all climaxed with an epic bases-loaded diving play to end the game – if the ball got through, then Kiwoom would have walked it off. It was the perfect cap to a week of exciting games.
We finished the day at Yeouido Riverside Park along the Han River. Renting a mat and having a riverside picnic is a local pastime. Great views and energy, but the best part was the food, of course! We ate some insanely good boneless roasted pork ribs, but the highlight was the famed convenience store instant ramen. We selected ramen from the floating 7-11 (don’t ask how you choose amongst scores of options) and filled it up at the automated machines on the barge. So cool!