South Korea won 6 times, the only unbeaten team, so far.
“We learned,” as Japanese manager Sadaharu Oh said after a thrilling loss to archrival Korea on Wednesday night, “that our opponent’s desire was higher than ours.”
And Korea’s Jong Beom Lee clenching both his fists as he doubled home his team’s only two runs in Wednesday’s win over Japan. There was Japan’s Hitoshi Tamura literally sinking, splay-legged, into the batter’s box as he struck out to end that game.
[I]Japan’s Ichiro, the King of Cool, let out a guttural, angry yell after the Koreans beat his team. His manager, the often granite-faced Oh, looked helplessly skyward after a critical misplay in the field earlier in the game. Earlier in the tournament, the Japanese were so upset about getting jobbed on a call that cost them a run – and a game against the U.S. – that they considered not returning to the field.
Whether all the passion is the result of nationalism, or xenophobia, or whether it’s simply a fervor that comes with playing on the best team that many of these players ever will play on, against some of the best teams that they will ever play against, really doesn’t matter. The emotion is there. It’s real. It’s raw. And it’s reflected in the stands, too.[/I]
Nearly 40,000 fans, a huge majority rooting for Korea, packed Angel Stadium on Thursday night to see Korea beat Japan. More than 40,000 were in the Tokyo Dome on March 5 for the first game between those two teams.
My hometown Gwangju is known well because of the 1980 massacre but also because of Tigers team. Baseball has always been the only thing about which Gwangju was better than Seoul, Daegu, and Busan. Jong Beom Lee happened to serve in the same division in Gwangju starting in Nov. 1994, 12 months after I started my military service there because for some reasons they made Tigers team members drafted to our battalion.
Nationalism and xenophobia surely played well during the 2002 Worldcup and 2006 WBC, but I silently believe politics and dictatorship played the biggest roles. Chon Du Hwan knew well how to use baseball (professional baseball starting two years after the 1980 coup) and the 1988 Olympics. It’s also true the players themselves worked very hard partly for their own successes and partly out of patriotism. Some US news reports were not completely true to imply the South Korean government has already decided to exempt the players from military service. In South Korea, Byung-Yeok (the draft) is still a lot more sacred than Olympics and any sports events even against Japan. You are called Son of God if you are exempted.