SEOUL, South Korea, June 9, 2010 -- For baseball fans, there's nothing like a trip to the ballpark and watching your home team win a game, a cup of beer in hand. But when it comes to baseball games in South Korea, boos and cheers are simply not enough.
Fanatical fans put on a real show here. They don't just chant and sing signature team songs but also perform carefully choreographed dance routines. In Korea, it seems everyone's a cheerleader.
Throughout the entire game, a male "chief cheerleader" and half a dozen buxom young cheerleaders lead the crowd in an orchestrated set of moves and songs from atop a dugout used as a stage. Assisting them are half a dozen men banging on large drums and traditional Korean gongs in sync with the rhythm of the music blasting from mega-sized speakers.
"When I'm in a bad mood, this is what makes me cheer up," said Kim Dong-Keun, 29, pointing to the cheerleaders' dancing to the latest hit song in super mini-shorts and tank-tops.
Before the game begins, the spectators start folding and ripping newspapers to create their own recycled pom-poms while vendors sell items such as plastic "thunder sticks" for less than a dollar, which make loud noises when smacked together.
Once the audience is equipped with the proper cheering tools, the chief cheerleader dressed in the home team uniform begins to conduct the crowd. His every move -- waving arms, hopping steps, or blowing different sounds with his whistle -- has a certain message to boost the mood.
When the team is at bat, tens of thousands in their seats start chanting for the hitter. Each player has his own designated songs, chants, and moves. For example, Gustavo Karim Garcia, a Mexican player scouted to play for Busan's Lotte Giants, receives a tribute that starts with a, "Ga---ru-si-a!" chant and five thunder-stick claps in rhythm.
Different repertoires are planned for specific situations, as when the opposing pitcher attempts a pickoff. Everyone shouts, "Ma!" warning their own runners to stop and get back to the base.
A 'Feeling of Togetherness'
When a player gets a hit, the fans reward him with a designated personal song and dance.
"I just know each song by heart. It's a tradition," shouts Jung So-Young, 37, while her husband and two sons sing with the crowd. "My father used to take me to the games, and now my boys naturally learn from coming here every season."
New songs and lyrics are posted on the Internet fan web pages. For fan Jung, her favorite routine is when a foul ball flies into the audience because the Lotte Giants fans have a tradition of chanting, "a-ju-ra, a-ju-ra," meaning give the foul ball to a child.
For the Lotte Giants, from one of eight leagues in South Korea, the highlight begins at the end of the fifth inning. The official fan club officers distribute their team-colored orange plastic bags to tens of thousands of fans in the stadium, where the level of coordination and mood of solid team spirit is so strong that it takes less than 10 minutes for the bags to reach every seat.
In one quick move, the fans blow air into the bags, tie them up in a balloon shape and flip them on top of their heads with the handles on each side of their ears. Others show off their creativity by making the head pom-poms in the shape of a big bow with the plastic bag.
The process turns half the ballpark into a sea of orange bobbing heads, a striking contrast to the opposing Doosan OB Bears team's signature color, white.
When a player hits a home run, the place is turned into a rock concert with everyone standing up and dancing side-by-side in coordinated steps to ear-blasting music.
The bags turn into trash bags after the game.
"It's all about this feeling of togetherness," Jung said. "We cheer as one, we clean up as one."