A Lesson on Losing from Korean Baseball Fans

Our team lost the championship (actually we blew it), and then we celebrated for the next 8 hours. It isn’t that Korean fans don't take the game as seriously as American fans, there were two women next to weeping as they continued to cheer after the final out. They have intense passion but they prefer celebrating and support to animosity. After all, baseball is supposed to be fun, right?

My heart sank as Oh Seoung Hwan, the star Korean closer whom Yankee fans may become very familiar with by next spring, recorded the final out. We lost. The Korean Series was over. Seoul’s beloved Doosan Bears had shocked the world (peninsula (southern half)) and advanced all the way to the final round of the Korean Baseball Postseason.  They faced the heavily favored and two time defending champions, the Samsung Lions, the “Yankees of Korea.” The Bears played brilliantly in the first four games and took a surprising 3 games to 1 advantage in the series, only to become, a few days later, the first team in Korean history to lose such a lead. Even the loyalist of baseball fan could be prompted to offer a “boo” in this situation.

The final games of the series were played four hours south of Seoul in the southern city of Daegu. Over 10,000 fans showed up to stadium in Seoul to watch their Bears claim the title on the empty stadium’s gigantic centerfield scoreboard.  Korean fans, similar to their Japanese counterparts, are famous for their game long singing. From before the first pitch to after the final out, fans of Korean teams stand, bang inflatable sticks together, and cheer on their players. Each player has a unique song that is belted out for the duration of his at bat. The Bears even have a specific song to celebrate a routine base on balls.

All of the energy normally poured into a Korean game was intensified during Game 7. As had happened in Game 6, the Bears took an early lead only to watch it fade. Not only did the Bears lose the three game series lead, the way we lost game 7 was brutal.  Leftfielder Kim Hyun Soo literally punted a bloop single into a double that led to the Lion’s first run, and then it all fell apart on a routine grounder in the 6th. With the bases loaded, American pitcher, Derek Hankins, induced a weak grounder to third that looked like it would become an inning ending double play. Instead, Lee Wan Seok’s throw home hit the runner in the helmet and bounced over into our own dugout. Instead of two outs, two runs scored. The next pitch resulted in single scoring two more runs. It was over. It’s one thing to lose; it’s a whole other situation when your team seemingly gives a game away. I was mad; my chance to experience crazy celebration had just evaporated. Or so I thought.  I was completed unprepared for what happened in the stadium after the final out was made.

No sulking. No booing. Instead, everyone went crazy. The sound system started to play our “Bears fighting song.” Though disappointed, the masses stayed on their feet. As previously mentioned, two girls next to we were literally crying and singing at the same time. We went through the songs of each of the players in our line-up twice before we moved on to our bench players. For over an hour, after 'blowing' the championship, we sang. With each song we became more joyful. We literally cheered ourselves into feeling better. We reminded ourselves that, this is supposed to be fun. We love this team and we just had a great season. No one thought we would make it this far. Then we took the reinging champs to seven games . We just spent 3 hours watching a giant TV with 10,000 other people and we sang and drank beers the whole time. Why on earth would we be sad? Our team just had the best three weeks of the season!

The party eventually spilled out onto the parking lot where people blared Doosan songs from their cars and hung out of windows to wave gigantic Bears flags. A few strangers that I met during the game ushered me into a few bars full of Doosan jerseys, photographs, and press clippings. Through the early hours of the morning we remained standing, hugging, and of course, singing the same 15 songs over and over.  It wasn’t until I made my escape from the bar and into a taxi that I remembered that we had actually lost. The thought was short lived as the cab driver immediately commented on my jersey and Doosan headgear. Before long, the driver and I were singing the Bears fighting song together.

I will never forget this night. I have been to many baseball games and watched many heartbreaking ends to seasons, but I've never witnessed anything in a stadium as refreshing and beautiful as the reaction to this disappointment. Fans around the world could learn a lot by experiencing a loss with a Doosan Bears fan.

(To add to the warm fuzzy feelings, the Bears put out a poem on Facebook, apologizing for the team’s loss but explaining how much hope they have for next season because of the loyalty and faith of their fans)

(I’m still waiting for a similar poem from the Detroit Tigers…)