Commentary

Welcome to Korea

Updated: March 4, 2009, 12:08 PM ET
By Joe Connor | Special to ESPN.com

QUICK FACTS

Most Known Outside Baseball For … Military Demarcation Line within the 2.5-mile wide Demilitarized Zone has separated Communist North Korea from Democratic South Korea since 1953.

Location: Eastern Asia, southern half of the Korean Peninsula bordering the Sea of Japan (or sometimes referred to as the East Sea) and the Yellow Sea.

Size: 38,368 square miles, or slightly larger than Indiana

Population: 48 million

People: Homogeneous (except for about 20,000 Chinese)

Language: Korean

Government: Republic

Capitol: Seoul (population: approximately 11 million)

Famous National Anthem Verses: "With such a will, such a spirit, loyalty, heart and hand, Let us love, come grief, come gladness, this, our beloved land!"

QUICK BASEBALL HISTORICAL FACTS

Most Known In Baseball For Its …: Talented pitchers; Creating tube-shaped noisemakers known to U.S. sports fans as "ThunderStix" (but known as "CheerStix" in South Korea)

Korean Baseball Debut: Introduced by American missionaries in the early 1900s where it was played in schools and with Christian groups.

First Korean-born play MLB: Chan-Ho Park, in 1994, with Los Angeles Dodgers.

Best Korea Baseball Town: Seoul.

Korea's Other Baseball Hot Beds: Baseball is popular in the major cities, particularly Busan, Incheon, Taegu and Gwangju, among others.

Baseball Weather: Temperate, with rainfall heavier in summer than winter.

Biggest Sports Competitors: Soccer, basketball.

Best Baseball Museum: Korea Baseball Hall of Fame, Seogwipo City, Jeju Island (includes a silver bat and golden ball in honor of Babe Ruth)

QUICK TEAM KOREA AND PLAYER FACTS

Biggest International Rival: Japan

Biggest International Successes: A semifinal finish in the 2006 WBC was nothing. In 2008, the Koreans captured gold at the 2008 Olympics and also won its fifth IBAF "AAA" Junior World Championships (under 18 years of age), its second in a row and third title in the past five events.

South Korea's first big international win came on the Asian continent against -- you got it -- Japan, in the 5th Asia Amateur Baseball Championships in 1963. Since then, South Korea has won the Asian Champions five more times (1971, 1975, 1983, 1989 and 1999). South Korea also won the gold medal at 1998 and 2002 Asian Games. In 1982, it won its first, and to date, only World Cup, also besting Japan. Just two years later, South Korea captured its first Little League World Series title. The Little League team, from Seoul, repeated as back-to-back champions, winning again in 1985. In 1996, on Japanese soil, South Korea beat Cuba to win its only "AA" Youth World Championship (age 16 and under) to date.

2006 WBC showing: Lost in semifinals to Japan.

Back from the 2006 WBC team: Jin-Young Lee

Gone from the 2006 WBC team: Chan-Ho Park. Seung-Yeop Lee, Byung-Hyun Kim, Jong-Beom Lee

Now on 2009 WBC team: Shin-Soo Choo (Indians), Dae-Ho Lee, Jong-Wook Lee.

PLAY BALL -- IN KOREA!

Korean Baseball Organization Overview: Eight teams in Korea's pro league teams play an approximate 130-game regular season schedule, with the top four clubs advancing to the playoffs. The top two teams await the winner of the best-of-five series between the No. 3 and No. 4 teams. The winner then plays the No. 2 team in a best-of-five series to determine who will oppose the No. 1 team in the Korea Series, which is best-of-seven. Each team is allowed two foreign-born players. Like in Japan, teams are named after a large corporation where corporate bragging rights are on the line when teams compete.

Most Successful Franchise: Kia Tigers have won nine titles, but haven't won since 1997.

Biggest Rivalry: Samsung Lions-Kia Tigers.

Famous Alums (with MLB ties): Julio Franco (2000, Samsung Lions); Kevin Mitchell (2000, Kia Tigers); Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens (2000, SK Wyverns); Carlos Baerga (2001, Samsung Lions); Salomon Torres (2001, Samsung Lions).

Notable Record Breakers: Seung-Yeop Lee shattered Sadaharu Oh's Asian single-season home run record by hitting 56 dingers in 2003.

Best Ballpark: Moonhak Stadium in Incheon is Korea's most modern and pleasant place to catch a ballgame. The ballpark features an excellent sound system, and the SK Wyverns cheerleading squad is among the most enthusiastic in the league. Incheon is where U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur helped push back the North Koreans during a key moment of the Korean War.

Best Ballpark Food & Drink: "Kim-bobs," rings of seaweed with a center of crab, lobster and Korean sausage pieces along with an OB beer, are a favorite.

Ballpark Atmosphere: Korea baseball games feature female cheerleaders like those found at college football games in the U.S. Usually one male "cheerleader" will blow a whistle, employ a megaphone and begin popular team chants to get fans fired up. Like Japan, a strong contingent of fans also follows its favorite team on the road.

South Korean Speak: Baseball means "Yagu" in Korean; "Yagujang" is a ball field.

Additional Notes: In general, most foreign-born players explain that umpires have a big strike zone in the KBO … Busan's Sajik Stadium and Seoul's ballpark are among the most pitcher friendly … In 2005, Myung-Hwan Park was caught wearing frozen cabbage leaves in his cap to keep cool during games, which led to a league ban on the delicacy under the lid. Park, a talented pitcher for Doosan, began keeping cabbage leaves in his cap in 2004 after learning that Babe Ruth employed the same tactic many decades ago!

Joe Connor is a contributor to ESPN.com who has visited more than 30 baseball countries on six continents. He's the author of "A Fan's Guide To The World Baseball Classic," which is available for purchase exclusively at his Web sites: www.modernerabaseball.com and www.mrsportstravel.com.