A friend once said that the thing he enjoyed most about Jamsil Baseball Stadium was “the real sense of occasion” as he marched up the steps of exit 5 and into the uncontrolled chaos of kimbap venders, ticket touts and 26,000 people descending on one of Korea’s most iconic venues.
Fans unlucky to have missed the opportunity to purchase tickets online will stand for hours in the draining summer sun to get the remaining few at ticket booths. Meanwhile, touts mingle with supporters attempting to coax them out of 80,000won for an outfield seat worth 10% of that. When someone sees the police arriving, the touts scurry into the subway station and the great game of offloading sought-after tickets starts again.
My friend is not a baseball fan but like most people who visit this magnificent ballpark in South-East Seoul, he was enthralled by the sight of so many away fans mixing with home fans inside and outside the stadium. Unlike, say, an English football game, crowd trouble and segregation are not issues and even though away fans sit on the third base side, there is significant crossover.
Whilst the idea of travelling away is not uncommon in team sports, it is the sheer number of visiting fans that instantly stands out. Weekend games retain that “Cup Final feel” English journalists often refer to because the crowd is split 50/50 and the atmosphere is epic.
Jamsil, built for the 1988 Olympic Games, is shared by two of Korea’s biggest baseball clubs; defending champions Doosan Bears and LG Twins. It does not impose on the local area like, say, the Seoul World Cup stadium. Even crossing the vast Samsung Bridge from Gangnam to Songpa, much of the ballpark is hidden behind tress and dwarfed by the main Olympic Stadium next door.
The unique curve grabs your attention first. From high above the home plate, the roof sweeps around to the foul ball poles leaving an outfield, with no more than a dozen rows, exposed and often deserted.
What makes this stadium better than others comes down to, for me, atmosphere, location and post-game entertainment. On all three, it is simply unbeatable. Jamsil isn’t beautiful. It hasn’t aged well, either. The outfield is crap and poorly designed whilst the food options are unsatisfactory.
But here are the positives…..
SK Wyverns’ Munhak Stadium is the only other ballpark that could possibly rival Jamsil for an atmosphere with a mix of home and away fans. Sajik (Busan), Hanbat (Daejeon) and Champions Field (Gwangju) are all excellent but they are, predominately, home fan dominated. Jamsil creates a UEFA Champions League, Super Bowl or Rugby World Cup-type experience.
The biggest reason for this, quite simply, is demographics. Jamsil is in Seoul and easily reached from most points in the city. Like most capital cities, people from the provinces emigrated to Seoul, especially during the boom years, taking their baseball support with them and then handing it down to their children. It just isn’t possible to see the same level of away support once you leave the city.
So, a packed stadium with each team taking turns in cheering. The lack of security or stewarding means fans with infield seats can pretty much walk around most parts of the stadium without being questioned. Catch a few innings behind both bases and make up your own mind which team has the best support.
Not only is the stadium in Seoul, but it is also in a good part of the city. Situated between Gangnam and Jamsil, there are plenty of great restaurants and bars within walking distance. The skyline is also breathtaking and visitors to the stadium can’t help but admire the skyline towering above the outfield seats at dusk.
- Post-game atmosphere
Sadly, this might be about to change in the future. Between subway exits 5 and 6, plastic chairs and tables are laid out with carpets for fans to continue drinking after the game. Drinking here is a wonderful experience because supporters sing, dance and share booze well after the game has ended next to the stadium. It is also a great way to meet fans of other teams. However, the increased clampdown on public drinking seems to have impacted heavily on this.
Plans to level the stadium and build a dome with minimal capacity increases have been mooted but this seems like a complete waste of time and money. Behind the outfield scoreboard sits a quasi fanzone with stores, bars and fast food restaurants. There appears to be plenty of room to redevelop the outfield dragging the capacity well above 30,000. One thing Jamsil has over other baseball stadia is a wide concourse within the bowls of the stadium. There’s never a crush or a line. If a new ballpark is built, you can be certain that will disappear, as we’ve seen in Munhak and Gwangju.
There are more quality features to this stadium, such as favourable ticket prices, superb views from cheap home plate seats and inexpensive beer sold inside. If you’re new to Seoul, or have no interest in baseball, go to Jamsil. It is one of the best things you can do on a busy weekend in the entire city.