Saturday mornings over the past five years have meant one thing to Seoul Baseball league (SBL) commissioner Ryan Burda. Sprouting from three-on-three games with friends, the opening season of the SBL in 2011 gave expatriates the chance to play America’s game in the Korean capital. Now entering its fifth year, the league offers two games each Saturday morning for anyone who fancies taking to the mound, swinging from home plate or just chilling out in left field.
Each team is sponsored by one of five bars around Seoul, with jerseys and caps supplied for each team member. Players need to bring their own pants, glove and cleats, but the league itself supplies the other equipment. The KRW 60,000 playing fee goes towards payment for umpires, equipment such as bats and balls, and the end of season banquet. The league has the typical volatility in membership that all organizations encounter in Seoul, with 34 new players in Spring 2015 equating to an almost 50% turnover. Nevertheless, Burda sees the possibility of having a sixth team competing this season if the league can recruit some strong throwing arms.
One of the league’s biggest challenges is in ascertaining a player’s skills in order to try and have reasonably balanced sides for the draft. Here is where the “skills sheet” becomes important, with new players encouraged to rate themselves according to their ability levels. It is here that modesty, Burda recalls, can have an impact. “You’ll get people under-selling their abilities a lot. Then you see them on the mound and think, ‘Wow! You can really throw!’” From there, the draft takes place at one of the participating bars, with all players divided into different teams. The draft can be one of the biggest social events of the calendar, with players old and new meeting up to discuss their love of the game over a few pints. From there it is onto the diamond, with teams usually made up of thirteen to fourteen players to allow for some not being able to make it every Saturday.
Played from March until June, the top four sides then play the semi-finals and final on the last Saturday of the season. Phillies in Haebongchon are the defending champions going into this season and, as champions, will be hosting the Spring tournament’s end of season banquet. However, although competitive, there is a lot more to the SBL than just end of season glory. With hot dogs and pulled pork sandwiches at reasonable prices courtesy of Seth Freeman, there’s every opportunity for players to have a snack and a beer during breaks in play. Post-game, players often head to one of the bars for Saturday evening drinks. Bars also host one evening a season with special drinks and food deals for members of the league, allowing for plenty of camaraderie and socialising to take place.
A “new players’ day” is planned for early next month when prospective players will have the chance to meet the team captains and play a practice game. From there, all members will be added to the start of season draft at Route 66 in Itaewon before the first round of matches. Teams will play between eight and twelve rounds with each game lasting seven innings over the season before the end of season play-offs and banquet. So whether you can hit, pitch, field or just feel like meeting some new people and picking up a new sport, the SBL has a place on the roster for you. Time to swing for that outfield fence.
The League is indebted to the great sponsorship from Dillinger’s, Phillies, Route 66, Beer O’Clock, and Wolfhound.
The SBL will be back in action from mid-March at Gwacheon Government Complex (Line 4, Exit 8).
For further information, join the Seoul Baseball League Facebook page.
Contact email: Seoulbaseballleague2015@gmail.com .