Casey and I like our baseball wherever we can get it, but our favorite place to see a game in Korea is probably Jamsil Stadium in East Seoul. Jamsil may not be the prettiest stadium, nor the cleanest, most well stocked, or most comfortable, but it’s size, location, and atmosphere are hard to beat.
Built in 1982, Jamsil holds around 26,000 people and is a huge concrete monstrosity typical of the era. If you ever went to St. Louis’ Busch Stadium, Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium, or Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium, then you’ve been to Jamsil. It’s big; it’s round; it doesn’t have much character. But damn it, it does the job. Though Jamsil has recently gone through some renovations, it’s essentially the same structure it was thirty years ago as all the changes had more to do with maintenance than with upgrades.
After two years of construction, Jamsil opened its doors for the inaugural season of the KBO as the home of the MBC Chungyong, the team that became the LG Twins in 1989. Jamsil remains the home of the Twins today, but also hosts the Doosan Bears, making it the only stadium in Korea to house two teams. Originally playing in Daejeon, the OB Bears moved to Seoul in 1985 and played one year at the now non-existent Dongdaemun Baseball Stadium before moving to Jamsil in 1986. It wasn’t until 1999 that the OB Bears became the Doosan Bears.
Slightly Tangential Historical Side Note: Jamsil hosted baseball at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the last Olympics before baseball became an official sport four years later in Barcelona. South Korea advanced all the way to the semi-finals, eventually losing to Puerto Rico in the bronze medal game (apparently medals were awarded but they weren’t real medals). The gold medal game was a rematch of the 1984 final with the United States edging the reigning champions, Japan, thanks to two home runs from Tino Martinez and a complete game by Jim Abbott. Another favorite, Cuba, boycotted the games due to its alliance with North Korea. Similarly, the heavy-hitting nations of Albania, Madagascar, and the Seychelles also abstained due to their friendship with North Korea. Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up.
Okay, back to Jamsil. Located in the Seoul Sports Complex, the stadium is easily accessible by subway. The convenience of its location is a big factor for Casey and I. We live just south of Seoul, so a relatively quick forty-minute trip on the subway drops us off right in front of the stadium. Similarly, Gangnam, along with its myriad bars and restaurants, is only three subway stops away. Not a big deal, but compared to the wasteland of entertainment and food surrounding Seoul’s Mokdong Stadium to the west, it’s a big plus. Again unlike Mokdong, the tickets at Jamsil are super reasonable. Outfield seats will run you about 8000 won (around $8 US). Like most of Korea’s stadiums, the outfield bleacher seats are unassigned, allowing you to sit in any seat you want as long as no one has already claimed it. Casey and I have probably been to about a dozen games at Jamsil and we’ve never actually sat anywhere other than the outfield. It just feels right somehow.
Unsurprisingly for the thirty-year-old stadium, amenities are not one of Jamsil’s high points. It simply wasn’t built for anything other than baseball, and I suppose that’s understandable. Go for the game and enjoy it, don’t expect anything else. Food options, however, are impressively diverse. Lots of western options such as KFC and Burger King, along with some pizza shops, line the outside of the stadium. The chicken is generally cold and soggy, but the burgers are decent and it’s hard to screw up pizza. Korean options are readily available, too, with everything from spicy rice cake to blood sausage. If none of that is appealing to you, bring whatever you’d like as the only things not allowed inside are glass bottles of soju (plastic bottles are fine). A few convenience stores are set up as concessions inside the stadium where you can get basic snacks and tall cans of beer at ridiculously low prices.
What makes Jamsil really stand out is its atmosphere. As far as I’m concerned, there is little better in Korea than catching a baseball game at Jamsil on a sunny afternoon. You can relax with a beer or five, catch some generally charmingly clumsy play, and be part of the spectacle that is Korean baseball. Though there are better stadiums in Korea, there might not be a better place to see a game. Located on a main subway line in one of the busiest cities in the world and the biggest city in Korea, fans from all over the country regularly fill a good portion of the seats. Even if you’re seeing a team from the south that made the trip up to face the Twins or Bears, they’re virtually guaranteed to have a big crowd cheering them on because so much of the population has migrated to Seoul in the last few decades. The big crowds really separate Jamsil from all the other stadiums and make otherwise dull games exciting.
Jamsil isn’t my favorite stadium in Korea (though it is Casey’s), but there’s nowhere else I’d rather see a game. If you can only get to one game in Korea, make it one at Jamsil. Unless it’s a playoff game or a rare Saturday/Sunday game between the Twins and Bears, tickets should be readily available. Though there’s been talk of a new stadium in Seoul for a while now, Jamsil should be around for quite a few more years and that’s just fine with me.
Take subway line 2, the green line, to Sports Complex Station and head out exit #5 or 6. The stadium will literally be right in front of you.