|DFLHS alumni association baseball team members slug it out at a community baseball field.|
(Daewon Foreign Language High School Alumni Association)
Waking up at 5 a.m. on a Saturday morning is never easy. But for the 44-year-old father-of-two Na Yoon-chul, it is just another day on the baseball field.
“I really take care not to wake my wife up whenever I get up on weekends that early,” he explains. “But when I’m scheduled to pitch, or when it is my turn to go and prepare the bats, baseballs and whatever for the morning game, I’ve got to go whether it’s 5 a.m., 6 a.m. or 7 a.m.”
Na is one of the hundreds of thousands who part ways with their weekend morning sleep-ins to enjoy the national pastime.
White- and blue-collar workers alike are investing precious leisure time to play “community baseball.” There are at least 430,000 Korean amateurs like Na playing in more than 15,000 individual teams in more than 200 leagues (including a Korean-American league operating from New York City) as of October 2013, according to GAMEONE Corp., a company providing administrative support to community baseball leagues.
The listed tallies are the results of a steadily increasing baseball population, with GAMEONE having listed 403,000 players just this April.
“We come from all over. The guy over there at third base is a singer. The center-fielder over there is a car salesman, while the first baseman is a cameraman,” Na explained, pointing to his teammates in the outfield at the Saturday morning game.
In fact, community baseball teams have become a new social networking venue in addition to their its role as an outlet for intense baseball fans. High school alumni teams or corporate teams allow members to reach out to alumni or co-workers that they would have otherwise not met.
“I think it’s a little different for us because we’re all from the same school. If we see each other at an alumni association meeting, we risk being a bit too formal. But as we play baseball together, have drinks and the like, we really get to know each other much more,” says Cha Jae-hoon of the Daewon Foreign Language High School Alumni Association baseball team.
But mingling with new friends and enjoying the now-popular recreation come at a price. Buying bats, gloves, helmets and other baseball necessities can cost an individual anywhere from 300,000 won ($282) to over 1 million won ($941), not to mention the occasional injuries from awry pitches to the head or sprained muscles from sliding into base.
“Yeah, my wife says this and that when I come home with a bruised eye or a sprained ankle,” admits Na, “because this means more hospital bills to pay.”
Na says, however, there is one key factor keeping this many people in the game, despite the tangible and intangible costs: “We’re all crazy about baseball.”
By Jeong Hunny (email@example.com