Why hello there, IPL readers! Did you miss me?
The doldrums of the offseason are in full swing — most of you (including yours truly) have probably devoted the lion’s share of your sports-related attention to what’s happening at Quicken Loans Arena (or First Energy Stadium if you’re a glutton for punishment). Yeah, you may have noticed that Jason Heyward is leaving Atlanta only to be replaced by Nick Markakis (Baltimore, do you want Nick Swisher? Please? $14,000,000 is nothing in 2015 dollars. Pretty please with a cherry on top?), or that the Tampa Bay Rays hired the former Indians Bullpen coach (with an amazingly ironic name given the financial limitations of that organizations). None of that seems to really matter, however, because the Cavaliers have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, and the Browns are above .500! What a great time to be alive as a Cleveland sports fan!
Yeah, with all that going on in the NBA and NFL, it’s even harder to stay appraised of the MLB offseason while I’m some 6,500 miles away in Jeonju, South Korea. I can’t wait for the 2015 season to start, but at the same time I feel like I’m constantly a day late and a dollar short on every big news break over here (a cruel irony because I’m 14 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time). That’s a big reason why you haven’t heard from me recently.
Here in Korea, baseball (or 야구 — yagoo) is a hugely popular sport, and I hope to bring you some articles on Korean baseball as that season kicks off in the Spring. In the meantime, however, I thought it would be interesting to share my observations on the sport in a distant land:
I haven’t had many opportunities to actually sit down and watch baseball in Korea, because I arrived so late in the fall that the season was nearly over. I did catch some of the postseason action, but my attention wasn’t quite devoted. I can’t wait until I can take in a game in person when the weather stops resembling Northeast Ohio, but until then you’ll have to make do with my observations of the local populace.
I imagine you would be surprised at how often I see Koreans wearing MLB apparel — it’s really quite frequent. I have a second grade student named Jude (that’s her English name, at least) who often wears a gold New York Yankees cap, and a first grade student named Julian who wears a Milwaukee Brewers shirt at least once a week. Compare this to the number of times I’ve seen someone wearing clothing supporting a Korean League Team (that number is still holding steady at zero), and you have something really interesting going on. These students, when pressed, have no idea about the team they’re representing with their clothing… and this goes for all my students: I see “Boston Red Sox” and “Chicago White Sox” and “Chicago Cubs” with a great deal of regularity, but no one seems to know anything about the teams on their clothes.
There is one exception, however… one team that I see 5x more than any other. And no, it’s not the Los Angeles Dodgers and/or Hyun-Jin Ryu jerseyes.
No, the team apparel that I see the most is the Cleveland Indians.
I can only attribute this phenomenon to the blossoming of Shin-Soo Choo (추신수 or Choo Shin-Soo here in Korea). From students to random people on the streets, I see someone wearing a Cleveland Indians sweatshirt or hat at least once a week… and every single time I get really geeked out over it, and every single time the person just doesn’t understand.
I attribute the lack of understanding to the fact that teams aren’t known by their local names here — it isn’t the Gwang-ju Tigers, it’s the Kia Tigers, because Kia owns the team that plays in Gwang-ju. So while people may root for a team, there aren’t the deep local ties to a franchise that we have in America… think about the return of LeBron James and how much it matters that he’s playing back in Northeast Ohio — I don’t think that would even be a logical consideration for a Korean sports fan.
Before I came to Korea I would have been the first to admit that Americans take regional allegiances too seriously in sports, but now that I’m living in a society that is quite the opposite I’m rethinking my stance on that matter. Cleveland will always be a second-fiddle city to Chicago and New York, and that enriches the rivalries that we have with those teams and those fans (though I hope most, if not all, of us keep it good-natured). An Indians-Tigers playoff series would mean more than a Cleveland-Tampa Bay series, and not just because of division, but because we as Clevelanders can relate to Detroiters more than we can relate to those warm-weather-loving fools down in Tampa. Would Hanwha Eagles Fans feel that same rivalry with Kia Tigers fans? I’m not so sure.
Either way, I’ll continue to geek out whenever I see Indians swag so far from home. I’ll continue to miss Shin-Soo Choo even if he’s not putting up numbers and/or getting paid too much money. He’s one of my favorite Indians of the past ten years, and I’m glad that his presence on the team built a nation of accidental Indians fans.
For the record, I haven’t seen a single Reds or Rangers shirt/hat… and I hope that continues.
Here’s a picture of one of my adorable students, named Peter: I asked him to model his Indians sweatshirt and he was more than happy to oblige. He’s an extremely sweet little kid.
Until the season starts — stay warm, Cleveland. <3