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Friday, 23 January 2015

Korean Play Ball, Part I: Lotte Giants - Meet the Most Enthusiastic Supporters in Korea!

Sajik Baseball Stadium, 45 Sajik Avenue/Sajik-ro, Sajik 2-dong 930-beonji, Busan Dongnae-gu - the Largest Karaoke in the world
The Lotte Giants (Hangul: 롯데 자이언츠) are a professional baseball team based in the southeastern city of Busan, South Korea, and one of the original franchises of the Korea Baseball Organization league. The Lotte Giants are owned by the South Korean-Japanese Lotte conglomerate, which also owns the Chiba Lotte Marines of Nippon Professional Baseball.

From 1982 through 1986, they played at Gudeok Baseball Stadium and since then have played at Sajik Baseball Stadium. They won the KBO Championship, the Korean Series, twice in 1984 and 1992. Starting 2014, they played at Ulsan Munsu Baseball Stadium, the secondary home pitch of Lotte Giants. 

The team drew about 1.38 million spectators during the 2009 season, a record which remains as the most attendance in a single season in any Korean sports league. They are often called the Busan Seagulls (부산 갈매기) because the official bird of the city of Busan is seagulls, and their main fight song is Busan Seagulls. The secondary fight song is Come Back to Busan Harbor.

The Lotte Giants were founded as an amateur baseball team of the Korea Baseball Association in Seoul, South Korea, on 6 May 1975, when there was no professional sports team in Korea. On 22 February 1982, the Giants became professional and moved to Busan, the second largest city after Seoul in South Korea.

Munsu Baseball Stadium, 44 Munsu Avenue/Munsu-ro, Okdong san 5-beonji, Ulsan Nam-gu - The Secondary Home Pitch of Lotte Giants
The Lotte Giants made their the Korea Professional Baseball league debut against the Haitai Tigers at Gudeok Baseball Stadium in Busan Seo-gu on 28 March 1982. They defeated the Tigers 14-2, but finished in 5th place out of six teams with a .388 winning percentage. Choi Dong-won, Yu Do-yeol, and Sim Jae-won of the Korea national baseball team postponed joining the Giants to play for the country in the 1982 Amateur World Series held in Seoul, South Korea. This might be one of the reasons the Giants had such a disappointing season.

In 1984, the Giants won their first Korean Series title in the third season after the Korea Professional Baseball league was launched. They beat the Samsung Lions 4-3 in the Korean Series. They were led by Choi Dong-won, one of the most dominant pitchers in Korea Professional Baseball league, who finished 1984 with 27 wins, 223 strikeouts, and a 2.40 ERA and won the regular season MVP Award. In the 1984 Korean Series, he appeared in 5 out of 7 games, had a 4-1 record (1 shutout, 3 complete games, and 1 five-inning relief appearance), and pitched 40 innings in 10 days.

The Giants suffered many game losses (41 losses) in the first half of the season because of rookie manager Yang Seung-ho's trial and error. As time passed, manager Yang found the way to make the best use of the players, and the Giants finished the regular season in second place at 72-56-5. However, they were defeated by the SK Wyverns, which finished in third place in the regular season, in the best-of-five playoffs. Thus, they didn't make it to the Korean Series. According to the league's rules on standings—the teams playing in the Korean Series have the first and second places respectively—their final place is a step down from the second place of the regular season.

During the off-season, the club failed to reach an agreement with star player Lee Dae-ho, who later signed with the Orix Buffaloes of the Nippon Professional Baseball, while it obtained free agents Lee Seung-ho, a former SK Wyverns left-handed reliever, and Chong Tae-hyon, a former SK Wyverns underhand closer.

The Lotte Giants retired Choi Dong-won's squad number 11 on September 30, 2011 after he died of colon cancer in September 14, 2011. The number is the club's first-ever retired number since the club was founded in 1975. He was portrayed by Jo Seung-woo in the 2011 film, Perfect Game about the two top pitchers him and his rival Sun Dong-yeol in the Korea Baseball Organization league during the 1980s.