Casey and I have had a baseball filled year. So far, we’ve been to nearly fifteen games at eight different stadiums spread across Korea, and as the 2013 KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) season stumbles towards its end, now feels like a good time to relive some of it, starting with our first game of the year at Mokdong Stadium in West Seoul.
Mokdong, along with Jamsil Stadium in the east, is one of two baseball stadiums in Seoul. Located in a quiet neighborhood off subway line 5, Mokdong has a small scale feel compared to Jamsil. Opened in 1989, Mokdong seats around 18,000 people despite the fact that it lacks outfield bleachers. This quirk makes for one of the strangest aspects of Mokdong: the continual stream of traffic that can be seen through the giant green nets that hang just beyond the outfield wall. Like most Korean stadiums, Mokdong’s small size ensures that there are very few bad seats. No matter where you sit, you’ll be facing home plate.
Despite being relatively new by Korean baseball stadium standards, Mokdong is possibly the most forgettable ballpark in the country. There just isn’t much to it. The lack of an outfield makes it feel somehow incomplete, the food options offer nothing unique (although I did read somewhere that there is a gourmet burger joint somewhere inside the stadium), and the ticket prices are the highest in the league at 15,000 won for a weekday game. Somehow even the decrepitude of Gwangju’s stadium is more appealing than the emptiness of Mokdong. The place is perfect for a baseball diehard, not so much for someone who cares more about a fun afternoon than the action on the field, so don’t worry about getting there early to see the sights. Just buy an open ticket and pick out any seats you want down either foul line and keep in mind that, unlike other Korean stadiums, the home team Nexen Heroes have laid claim to the third base side. So if you want to be among the local diehards, head that way.
Nexen is one of the newest teams in the league, having made their debut under Heroes name in 2008. Despite this, the franchise that now plays in Mokdong has a long history in the KBO. The shifting sands of the Korean economy has made change a constant, rather than a rarity, in the KBO and the Heroes are one of the more interesting examples. Starting life as the Sammi Superstars, they quickly transformed into the Chongbo Pintos and then the Pacific Dolphins before being sold to Hyundai in 1996 and settling down in Suwon as the Hyundai Unicorns, a team which won four Korean World Series before making the switch to Mokdong as the Woori Heroes in 2008. In 2010, Nexen bought the naming rights and brought us all the way to the present day. In their first four seasons, the Heroes failed to post a winning record. This year, however, the Heroes are poised to make the playoffs with one of the best records in the league thanks to some Billy Beane-esque off-season moves by a savvy manager.
The game we caught was an early season battle between the Heroes and our favorites, the Lotte Giants. We’ve had terrible luck with the Giants this year, and despite an early lead, the Giants blew it as usual. Casey, our friend Morgan, and I sat down the first base line with the Lotte fans. One of the best parts about Korean baseball is the fans. Because so much of the country’s populace has migrated to Seoul, Lotte had a strong turnout despite its home base being so far to the south in Busan. The Giants fans are passionate and carry their traditions to every stadium. By far our favorite is the orange plastic bags that make their way onto every Lotte fan’s head by the seventh or eighth inning. I think it’s just a rally cap that became a daily thing because Lotte always seems to be losing. Regardless, when the game is over you can just take it off your head and load it up with your empty beer cans and oily chicken boxes for easy disposal.
Like all the games we’ve been to this year, we had a blast. Korean baseball is a must do for anyone lucky enough to stop by Korea in the summer. But if you only have time for one game in Seoul, head over to Jamsil and give Mokdong a pass. It’s not a bad place to see a game, but it’s nothing special either.
Take subway line 5 and get off at Omokyo Station. Head out exit 4 and follow the signs to the stadium located about a kilometer away. You can also take buses #571, 603, 6624, or 6637, but the subway is the easiest option.