The Korean Baseball Organization (KBO)-loving expat community has never been as big as it is today, and with an ever-increasing number of expats in Seoul it can only continue to grow. With more and more KBO players breaking into the US, where there will be no fewer than six Koreans plying their trade next year, interest from the outside is on the rise as well. Whether you are looking to get entangled in the weird world of the KBO for the first time or have never found a way of meeting other fans before, there are two fantastic communities out there for casual fans and enthusiasts alike.
For a start, one of the most famous baseball-related groups has its very own Korea chapter. SABR, or the Society for American Baseball Research, is one of the most well-known groups related to the sport around the world. The term “sabermetrics,” loosely meaning the use of advanced statistics in baseball, takes its name from the group since so many SABR members have been crucial in its development and acceptance, including Bill James, who coined the word himself.
But SABR is more than a group of statisticians getting excited about WHIP (for non-baseball fans, it’s not as exotic as it sounds). Members publish historical records, stories and general theories on baseball and, if you are a big baseball fan, you could get lost in a vortex of time and space looking through their work or attending a meeting.
The Korea branch was founded in 2013 by Thomas St. John and Patrick Bourgo, two people with a wealth of experience in the KBO as fans, writers and working within the game itself. As John explained, SABR welcomes a broad membership. “SABR is for the analytics but it is also a social network for those, in this case, who love baseball, want to know more, or are really into the mathematical aspects of the game,” he points out. “If you like baseball and what goes well with it, like beer, chicken, and the odd dried squid, you’ve found a new home.”
Those that want to join can sign up easily, and anyone already a member in the US or elsewhere can transfer their membership to the Korea chapter. “We have been meeting a few times a year, but hope to meet more often in the future,” notes co-founder Bourgo. “We usually discuss topics related to Korean baseball, both current topics and historical ones. Our meetings are open to the public, so even if someone is not a member, they are welcome to come.”
With the amount of interest MLB teams are showing in players from the KBO and with the increase in the amount of money in the league, joining the chapter also allows those that want to make a career out of their favourite sport to learn more, make connections, and find out information otherwise unavailable even in the dark corners of the internet. With the new season coming up and some exciting plans for the Korean chapter in 2016, it’s one of the best times to join.
“We will also begin going to games as a group, and meeting up with some legend players. Currently, there are a few things planned for 2016 which will be good for anyone interested,” according to John. For both of the founders, Korean baseball is not just a casual hobby done on the side, it is almost like a subject, and their combined wealth of knowledge on the Korean game would put even Korean baseball historians to shame.
The growth of the KBO expat community can also be attributed to another baseball community here in Korea, MyKBO.net. Founded by American and Korean-born adoptee Danny Kurtz back in 2003, the site has grown to have over 1,500 members on Facebook and is the number one resource for information from how to buy tickets to the players with the best averages in English.
The site began as a simple message board, motivated by the lack of an official KBO English website at the time and a desire to let fans who have yet to master the Korean language get involved with the game in this country. Since then, MyKBO has become a full website packed with statistics, fan information and merchandise. What began as a simple project has thoroughly left the nest.
“Through the use of social media, MyKBO has received some attention from media, scouts, and baseball people in North America. I’ve been told a few times that some MLB teams check my site regularly for news and info, and I am very honored that they do; I still can’t believe that they know about MyKBO,” explains Kurtz. A quick look through the posters and members on Facebook shows friends and family of foreign players in the KBO even use it to keep in touch with how their loved ones are doing.
But Kurtz still keeps true to the original goal of the site. “Despite the recent increase in traffic and recognition of MyKBO, my goal for the site remains the same, which is to continue to help fans learn more about the league and baseball in Korea.” The approach has proven very popular, and the community has grown to become its own organism.
“The group is always super helpful to everybody; from the diehard baseball fan that’s new to Korea and trying to sort out the KBO, to the guy visiting Korea for a weekend who just needs information on how and where to see a game,” according to Harry Dean, one of the most active members of the group. “Overall the baseball culture, and the experience, in Korea is phenomenal. I recommend even non-sports enthusiasts experience just one game.”
Some real good has also come from the expat KBO community. When Paul Vogel, a KT Wiz fan back in the States lost his brother last year, he turned to baseball to overcome the grief. Two members of the MyKBO, Andre Linde and Matthew Care, decided to take it on themselves to raise money to purchase some KT merchandise and send it over. The whole thing snowballed, eventually ending up with Care passing the shirts to KT pitcher Chris Oxspring, himself a member of the group, and the whole KT team signed it and threw in a couple of baseballs for good measure.
And how was the story spread? SABR co-founder Bourgo wrote about it in his column in the Korea Times, showing the connections and bonds MyKBO and SABR have forged between baseball lovers. Although baseball is the love that everyone shares, at the heart of both communities is the desire to come together to enjoy a shared passion.
Check out: SABR: Twitter and Facebook (@KoreaSABR) or join online http://sabr.org/chapters/korea-chapter
Check out: MyKBO: Website MyKBO.net, Facebook and Twitter (MyKBO.net)