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All Points West: I miss my base-ketball
March 18, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
Things I missed being out of the country.

I missed the first day of Spring Training for the Major Leagues. The baseball season seemed to magically appear. The Grape Fruit League started playing games at the end of February. Opening Day is scheduled for April, 3, Sunday, though exposure to it here in South Korea is limited with delayed or replayed telecasts of preseason games on the Armed Forces Network. I barely noticed after watching an ESPN sports feature on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen, who, like numerous other pro athletes, is giving back to his community and teaching the tykes how to hit and throw at summer camps. Don’t get me started on the lame public service announcements. Forget beer and car commercials.

Korea’s season is getting started, too.

According to Korean Baseball Net, the 1980s marked the beginning of the era of pro baseball in South Korea and resulted in what is now known as the Korean Baseball Organization or KBO. In 1982, the MBC Chungyong (Blue Dragons), Lotte Giants, Samsung Lions, OB Bears, Haitai Tigers, and Sammi Superstars became the highest-level league, and competed for the Korea Baseball Championship, this country’s version of the World Series. This league’s season runs parallel to the Major Leagues from March to October, and continues to grow, expanding to 10 teams in 2015.

According to the Chan Ho Park player page, the sport’s popularity hit a watershed moment in American sports when pitcher Chan Ho Park made his debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1994. Park’s success paved the way for fellow Koreans Hee Seop Choi, Byung Hyun Kim, Jung Bong, Shin-Soo Choo, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Jung-ho Kang.

For fans like my KATUSA or Korean Augmentees to the United States Army, they aren’t much different from any other sports fan, willing to dish out top dollar or in this case, top Won to see their sports heroes battle it out. KBO playoff tickets usually go for 20,000 (roughly $18). For Cpl. Lee, Ho Seung, 21, who lives in Daegu-city, he keeps an eye on the Samsung Lions, whose baseball jerseys resemble that of the L.A. Dodgers. They are the current Korean champs for three years running. The team also once employed former Atlanta Braves shortstop Julio Franco, a product of the Dominican Republic – a testament there are baseball lovers everywhere. The team also has an avid following amongst Americans living in South Korea. The team moves into a brand new stadium, Daegu Sumsung Lions Park, after 33 years at Daegu Baseball Stadium. Lee would pit the Lions against any American team and they would likely come out on top. “They are that good,” he said.

As a gauge of Korean baseball competiveness, going back to 1982, when the KBO was in its infancy, the MBC took on the Braves in Seoul, topping them, 5-3.

Take me out to the ballpark.

I also missed the college basketball championships. Facebook gave a glimpse of the excitement when Nebraska upset the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Tournament. Too bad the Cornhuskers have yet to reach the same level they did a few years ago, when they were invited to the Big Dance with 63 other teams, getting bounced by the Wichita State Shockers in the first round. This year, they ended the season just under .500, at 16-18, but recording a remarkable 1-point win over Michigan State back on Jan. 21, 72-71. There’s promise in these Huskers, but finding consistency, that’s next. Under Head Coach Tim Miles, the Huskers are making strides.

Filled in your brackets yet? The first round of the NCAA Tourney is March 17-18. By the time you get your Citizen, teams will be entering the second round. Top seeds include the usual suspects, North Carolina, Kansas, Virginia, and … Oregon? My upset picks are Baylor, Purdue, Kentucky and California.

After the tourney, get ready to make a jar of sun tea, and kick back for a long season of watching the boys of summer. Maybe you’ll even catch a game in the KBO.

As always, GBR!
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