World Baseball Classic: An American Gets In the Spirit of Asian Baseball
The bedlam begins even before you enter the stadium.
Although the gates have already opened and people are passing through relatively unhindered, a crush has formed just outside the main entrance.
You see clusters of color. Here, large groups of Asian people wear blue or white jerseys with names like Ichiro, Matsuzaka, and Darvish on the back.
Some wear team caps that say "Japan" in red and white. Some sport white bandanas with big red suns around their heads.
Some women and girls are even dressed in kimonos. You spy small kids wearing samurai garb, complete with plastic swords—that is, katanas.
Some are talking excitedly. You wish you understood what they are saying about this team, about this game.
It's A hugely important game.
Important enough that there are TV trucks, TV lights, cameras, and microphones all over the place. Fans are being interviewed by intense young men and women.
A few interviewers might even be fans themselves, capturing these moments with rented equipment.
Not too far away, you see splashes of a different color. The navy blue of the Japanese gives way to a lighter, sky blue.
Here the caps have a simple, bold ‘K’ in white.
There are not so many names on the backs of the Korean jerseys and you wonder if their adulation for their players will be less than the Japanese fans.
The Korean fans are talking, but to each other, not to interviewers. They don’t seem so concerned to preserve the images with sound.
There is another difference you notice as you enter the stadium amidst the seas of blues: Where the Japanese eyes blaze with intensity, the Korean faces beam with smiles.
So much excitement, so much passion, and the game has not even started.
As an American, you almost feel out of place at Petco Park in San Diego, California.
You’ve always thought you were an avid—maybe at times, rabid—baseball fan. You can’t get enough.
That is why you had to fly across the country to be at this 2009 World Baseball Classic.
You are looking forward to good baseball in March, a great way to start the season.
You have no idea what you are about to experience.
Now, at the top of the stairs, you work your way through the scurrying, crisscrossing fans on the wide concourse, looking for the stairs that will take you down into the park.
Ahead of you the field comes into view. A gradual din rises slowly from the stands below.
Has the game started yet? You know that it hasn’t.
But then, what is all that noise?
Suddenly, just off to your right, thunderous sound! Huge kettle drums (or their Japanese equivalents) erupt, just when you thought it couldn’t get any louder.
You find you don’t mind the noise. You notice that you are wearing a huge grin. You revel in the spirit of Asian baseball.
You make your way down to the "good seats." The best are reserved for VIPs, but 19 rows behind home plate is pretty darn good.
You notice that more Americans are sitting in this section than elsewhere. But Japanese and Koreans are around, too.
You, an American, can’t distinguish between them unless they announce themselves with their colors.
The National Anthems play. Japan, Korea, United States.
By far, the singing of the Koreans is loudest. They sound like a chorus.
As the game gets underway, a pattern emerges. Everywhere, orange and blue thundersticks appear.
The Japanese chant “Nee-PON!” And the thundersticks reply “BUH, BUH, BUH!”
“Nee-PON! BUH, BUH, BUH!”
A competition has begun. The Koreans respond with their own chant. ‘Ha, ha, HEE GO! BUH, BUH, BA BA, BUH!”
You don’t understand Korean any more than you do Japanese. You joke with your neighbor that they might be chanting “Now, here we go” or “Power of Greyskull.”
Someone in the row behind you explains to his neighbor: “They are saying ‘Dae Han Min Guk,’ which means ‘the Korean People,’ kind of like us chanting ‘USA, USA!’”
You notice that the Koreans’ thundersticks are also sky blue.
There is an ocean of them.
The chants continue, interrupted only by bursts of cheers when someone on the field—yes, there is a game going on—does something, anything.
Like, maybe catch a fly ball, or a strike out, or steal a base.
“Nee-PON! BUH, BUH, BUH! Nee-PON! BUH, BUH, BUH!”
“DAE HAE MIN GUK! BUH, BUH, BA BA, BUH! DAE HAE MIN GUK! BUH, BUH, BA BA, BUH!”
So many games you’ve witnessed, often keeping score, as you do now. But you’ve never encountered this level of fan devotion—even as a member of Red Sox Nation.
All this noise, all of it positive. No boos. No name-calling, except in encouragement.
You had come to see a good baseball game in March.
Instead, you have been enthralled by the spirit of Asian baseball.
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