Like America and Canada, Korea has had a love of food at baseball games since the Korean Baseball Organization’s inaugural season in 1982. Much akin to Duke Snider’s statement that hot dogs taste better at the ballpark than at home, chicken and beer, or chimaek (치맥) as it is more commonly known, has held similar status in KBO ballparks for the last 35 years.
Over the past five to six years however, KBO teams have added several new food items to their menus including western classics such as pizza, burgers, hot dogs, and some more unique items such as mandu (만두 – steamed or fried pork dumplings), butter squid, and jokbal (족발 – slow boiled pig trotters).
Among these options, jokbal has piqued the interest of two KBO fans in particular, George Settlemir, and Tony Czajkowski, and over the past couple of months has become the focal point of a charity campaign that has been building momentum throughout the season. This past weekend I caught up with Tony Czajkowski to talk about the origins of Team Jokbal.
M: How did you first become interested in Korean baseball?
T: I started my time in Korea in Gwangju and I became a KIA Tigers fan after I got taken to some games by friends and coworkers. In Gwangju, the KIA Tigers mean so much more than baseball. They mean so much more to their city. The passion and emotions that you feel when you step into their stadium are easy to feel even if you don’t speak any of the language. The energy from the fans, the cheerleading stage, and the general atmosphere are second to none. I just kept wanting to go back to experience it more.
M: This season, you have started some charity work with Team Jokbal. How did the idea for the campaign first come about?
T: The idea first started as a conversation in a bar in Hongcheon, Gangwon-do with some of my friends, Andrew, Martin, and George talking about how some of the older KBO players may have enjoyed some jokbal as quite a few of them are fairly large gentlemen. In a separate conversation with George a few days later, we talked about the events in Spain where Sergio Ramos, one of the best football players in the world today exchanged his match jersey for a tray of pork. George and I then started talking about the possibility of getting a KBO player to exchange their uniform for a portion of jokbal as a one-off challenge. Michael Bowden from Doosan Bears responded very quickly to the idea and gave us a uniform almost immediately. After that we started talking about getting more. How many uniforms could we get? What could we do with the uniforms? After all, there’s only so much memorabilia one can keep in their apartment. George then started talking about how several youth sports programs in Gangwon-do are drastically under-funded and so we came up with the idea to auction the items that we would collect over the season and use the money from that to help these children.
M: Do you have an event set up for auctioning these items?
T: Each team in the KBO has a cheerleading captain. We’ve reached out and spoken with a couple of them: Han JaeKwon (한재권) from Doosan Bears, and Kim JuIl (김주일) of kt wiz, formerly of KIA Tigers and asked about joining their charity event which happens at the end of each season in Seoul in December. They’ve told us that they’re very happy for us to join that event this year and auction our items then. Last year the charity event took place at a bar in Gangnam near KyoDae station (교대역 – Seoul Line 2, 3) on December 19th. This year we believe it will be held in the same bar, but we don’t have an exact date nailed down yet.
M: What have you managed to collect from players for the campaign so far?
T: After Michael Bowden gave us the first jersey it went quiet for a while, but then we had an explosion of interest from players after we decided to put the campaign towards charity. Jeff Manship (NC Dinos), one of the most naturally talented players in the KBO, and one of the most popular and sought after players by fans, walked up to us at Jamsil and wanted to talk about the campaign. A week later we went to Masan where he met us again with a bag of goods. After that we talked to Pat Dean, who promised to talk to players in the KIA locker room, and Henry Sosa from the LG Twins who promised to see what he could do. Then, Michael Bowden came back with a Dustin Nippert jersey. We’ve got Donn Roach and Ryan Feierabend from kt wiz asking around their locker room, and just yesterday (August 13, 2017) I was with Roger Bernadina, the shark, and he was so generous, like all of these players. Roger asked security to let me inside the fence and came back with an armful of items including the bat he used to hit the first cycle by a foreign player in KIA Tigers history. He also provided game cleats from not only himself, but KIA’s ace Hector Noesi, and Pat Dean.
(Video: Roger Bernadina hits for the cycle against the kt wiz on August 3rd, 2017. Bernadina’s cycle was the 24th in KBO history. Only two other foreign hitters have previously hit for the cycle in the KBO – Manny Martinez on May 26, 2001 for Samsung Lions, and Eric Thames on April 09, and August 11, 2015 for the NC Dinos)
M: You mentioned that Jeff Manship came forward to talk to you directly. What has been your approach when asking players to contribute to the campaign?
T: George and I turn up to games with signs, a green wig, and a sombrero with a pig on it, and we’ll try to wait by the player entrances with the fans who are trying to get autographs and ask them if they have some time to talk to us. We also try to reach out to them on Twitter. Worst case, they say no, but in my experience if you ask, then about 90% of the time they’ll hear you out and often say okay. Yesterday (August 13th), Roger Bernadina had about 200 people around him and to his credit, he signed autographs for everyone, then took the time to talk to us and listen. We told him what we were doing and he just said, “Please give me five minutes.” and he came back out 5 minutes later with his arms full of goods.
The Korean players seemed to have trouble understanding the campaign at first, but we have produced a Korean version of our message and what we are hoping to achieve. For Korean players, the more we do it, the more I realize that seeing two foreigners with a green wig, and a sombrero with a pig on it is odd without any explanation, but the foreign players have been absolutely fantastic in bridging the gap with them, and most Korean players in fairness have given us time and read the paper that we have. Some of them are happy to also sign stuff that we have at the time too.
We’ve shown the paper to some players such as Park YongTaek (박용택) from LG Twins, and Kim SeonBin (김선빈) from KIA Tigers. We got a signed ball from Kim SeonBin and he said he would ask some of the other players if they could do anything. What was nice was that when we showed our paper to Kim SeonBin he didn’t just take it like a flyer and leave. He stood there and read through it for a few minutes. A lot of other players have it now too and the reaction has been good. It seems to be the understanding that the Korean players will give stuff to the foreign players, and the foreign players will give it to us so the foreign players have mostly been the pointmen in this campaign. For example, Na SungBum (나성범 – NC Dinos) gave us a signed bat, but it was Jeff Manship who gave it to us in Masan.
M: Are there any players or teams that you have not gotten merchandise for the auction yet that you would like to receive something from?
T: We’d really like something from Hanwha, Samsung, Lotte, or Nexen. We’ve been working on contacting Willin Rosario, but he hasn’t responded to anything yet. We’d like to get something from him as he plays for a well supported team and his items would hopefully bring in a lot of money for a good cause. We want to represent all teams at the auction at the end of the day. We want to be inclusive because it can give fans a chance to get something from their favourite team.
M: Have you decided how the money raised from the auction will be distributed among different schools?
T: George has been looking at different schools that can benefit in Gangwon-do. We have a couple in mind for now, but if schools want to identify themselves as being in need of assistance to buy equipment for their students then we welcome them to contact us and make their cases known. We should have a clearer idea of which schools and charities we will help a bit closer to the date of the auction, but right now we are open to listen because ultimately we want to help as many children as possible.
M: Is this a one-off campaign or do you see Team Jokbal continuing over future seasons?
T: Actually, we are planning on getting uniforms made for next season. They might be ready by the post season this year, but it would likely be a pink uniform, because pigs are pink, with a custom logo, and anyone who joins us as a representative would be able to get one of these uniforms for the cost of production. Right now Doosan is well represented for us. We’ve got George Settlemir, Andrew Dunham, Marcus Mehlhaf Brown, and from next week Andre Ignacio has agreed to be our Hanwha Jokbal. People have told us if they support other teams that they’ll try to help out where they can., but if people support especially SK, Hanwha, kt, or Samsung we do not have many connections in those teams. We’ve spoken to a couple of players and they all seem nice, but if someone can go to games and keep our campaign alive and represent us there then we would more than welcome you.
We hope to set up events next season where we can go to a game en masse, drink a few beers, enjoy the game, try to talk to players or collect items for sale in the auction next year, and just have a good time. We’re also going to provide a uniform to contributing players for what we call “Jokbal of the Year”. Jeff Manship and Roger Bernadina are neck and neck right now, but if any players want to up the ante and earn a pink uniform then we’re more than open to work with them.
M: How can people keep up to date on the campaign, or contact you if they want to get involved?
Some of the items available for auction from the Team Jokbal Charity Campaign. Photo courtesy of Anthony Czajkowski.
This isn’t the first time that foreign fans have come together for a charitable cause. In July 2015, Biskachy Bar in Changwon hosted a community fundraiser with former NC Dino and current Milwaukee Brewer, Eric Thames to raise money for the Goseong orphanage, including invitations to the children and volunteers at the school to watch a game in Masan against the Doosan Bears. In July that same year, the myKBO community raised money and enlisted the aid of then kt wiz pitcher, and current Lotte Giants minor league pitching coach Chris Oxspring to help support Paul Vogel after his older brother passed away. When asked for comment, Oxspring said, “Baseball has given me everything, so when I have the opportunity, I want to give something back.”
Many other players share this sentiment of giving back the love that the community has given them, including Oh SeungHwan who joined Make a Wish Korea’s ‘Saves for Wishes’ campaign in 2016, Josh Lindblom who’s foundation brought children from the Jong Duck Won (종덕원) orphanage to baseball games over 2015 and 2016, and Doosan Bears’ Dustin Nippert, who since 2013 has paid for over 500 children from welfare centers around Seoul to come and watch games in Jamsil. Nippert additionally provided caps, t-shirts, jerseys, autographed baseballs, and snacks for the kids. In 2015, he became the first foreign born player to participate in Korea’s annual Hope+ charity baseball match. Nippert’s generosity was recognized in 2016 by the Seoul Welfare Awards where he was named ‘Best Sponsor’ for charitable contributions.
With many other unsung heroes on the field doing their part for charity, it is nice to have another fan event in the Jokbal Campaign that can continue to grow going forward, and give some of these players the recognition they deserve, all for a good cause.
Title Image: Tony Cjazkowski shows the merchandise he received from Roger Bernadina of the KIA Tigers. Photo by Matthew Care.