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Official Review by Eric Bynum, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Nexen Heroes are the newest team in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). They were formed in 2008 after the Hyundai Unicorns disbanded. In their three seasons they have finished 7th, 6th, and 7th in the league standings out of 8 teams. They have yet to have a winning season, but that doesn't mean they don't have some great fans.
Before we get into the team and the stadium, a little about the background of the KBO is in order since it is a little different than the leagues in the USA. There is only one division of 8 teams where the top four teams make the playoffs. Games are called a tie after 12 innings, and every Monday is a regular day off for each team.
The Heroes play in Mokdong Baseball Stadium in Seoul. The stadium, built in the late 1980's, holds around 18,000 people. It's not the newest, but it's one of the nicer stadiums in the league.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Mokdong Stadium offers a decent variety of food and beverages, but the greatest part about Korean baseball stadiums is you can bring in anything, including beer. Fans routinely bring in chicken, or pizzas and lots of beer. Outside the stadium you will usually find a vendor or two selling their goods. You will find guys on scooters loaded down with pizzas and chicken for sale. It's cheap and usually pretty good. If you want to drink, stop by a local convenience store and pick up a pack of beer (usually come in 4 packs of cans).
Don't worry if you didn't bring anything to eat, inside you will find a decent selection. You can get all the normal varieties of Korean "ballpark" food like gimbap, ddeokbokki, dried squid, mandu, sausage on a stick and the ever-present ramyeon. The concession stands also carry a wide range of beverages, and everything is inexpensive. Beer, soda, Gatorade, Pocari Sweat (a Japanese sports drink), and water are all available for between $1-3. They also carry a wide range of snacks from ice cream to chips.
For those who are a little less adventurous when it comes to eating, you can also find more American style foods. Kraze Burger has a stand in the main concourse heading toward the third base side. They offer burgers and nachos, which are quite good. NY Hot Dog has a stand as well. They offer a wide variety of the familiar American fare from a plain dog to a chilidog.
The home team, Nexen Heroes, isn't the greatest in the league. They are perennial cellar dwellers the past 4 seasons and thus don't draw huge crowds. However, those that do show up are loud and ready to cheer. Korean fans, regardless of how well the team is doing, are always loud and full of energy. There are cheerleaders who lead the crowd in cheers all game long. In between innings, they will dance to loud music being played over huge speakers on top of the dugout.
Like a lot of other ballparks, the home team might not be the loudest at Mokdong Baseball Stadium. With Korea being a small country, fans of opposing teams travel well. The Sunday evening that I visited there were more visiting Samsung Lions fans, and they were a lot louder. They bring along their own cheerleaders and speakers to make their own noise.
The atmosphere at games in Korea is always great. The thundersticks (long plastic balloons used as noise makers) originated in Korea, and everyone has them. Both teams bang on them as they chant and cheer on their team. This in itself is something to behold and worth the price of admission.
Immediately around the stadium there isn't much. On one side is a soccer stadium and on the other is an indoor ice hockey rink. However, just a short walk (near the subway) there are a lot of local merchants. You will find a wide range of restaurants and bars serving the typical Korean cuisine. Nearby you will also find places like Starbucks, Baskin Robins, and E-Mart (think Korean Wal-Mart).
No matter how many show up for the game, the fans are amazing. One of the greatest things about Korean baseball is the fan. Regardless of the score, the teams place in the standings, or how long it's been since they last won a championship the fans are screaming, chanting, and cheering their team. They love their thundersticks, which can always be heard in unison as they chant along with the cheerleaders.
Another great thing about the fans are how well they travel. The visiting team will have a lot of fans as well, and they will be just as loud as the home team fans. It's quite a sight, and you have not experienced a Korean baseball game until you have sat among thousands of rabid fans chanting and banging thundersticks in unison.
Mokdong Stadium is an easy walk from the Seoul subway system. But don't be fooled by getting off at the Mokdong station. Instead take the Omokgyo station, which is one stop away and much closer to the stadium. In the subway follow the signs for Mokdong Stadium, which are also in English. Exit 4 will take you out toward the stadium. If you are taking the bus, routes 571, 603, 6624, and 6637 will all drop you off at the Mokdong Stadium stop.
The gates and ticket windows open 2 hours prior to game time. Since most of the seating is first come first serve, fans will be lined up when the gates open in order to get in and get a good seat near their team's dugout and cheerleaders.
Once inside you can move around anywhere you want in the general admission sections, which run from just beyond the edge of the dugouts to the outfield walls. You can use the concourse to go from base line to base line if you are into taking pictures or just want to sit on the opposite side. The areas behind home plate will require a ticket for that area.
Restrooms are plentiful and there is never a long wait.
Korean baseball games are generally pretty cheap. Even with some of the highest general admission ticket prices in Korea at 15,000 won, Nexen is still a great value. You have the ability to move around or stake out a seat near the field of play. Add in that you can bring in any food or beverage of your choice, and the value just goes up.
The entertainment factor is great as well. The cheerleaders, fans, and thundersticks provide for a fun night. Of course you can upgrade to one of the seats behind home plate for 30,000 won or more, but most of the loud fans don't sit here. A few will sit there because on top of the dugouts are where the cheerleaders are, but the majority of the crazy fans will be in general admission sections.
There is no upper deck or outfield seating. You can sit down near either bullpen and be very close to the pitchers, which provides for some great photo opportunities.
If you are a photographer, there are some good and bad points. You are able to get up close to the field and players, but most of the seats down the lines have a net in front of them to keep foul balls away. This is great for safety, but those nets make it hard to take some good action photos.
Generally you will not have a hard time getting a ticket here, as the team has not been great the last few years. However, anytime there is a holiday or really big games try to get a ticket before the game. If you want to sit in the best seats, get there when the gates open as they go quick.
There aren't a whole lot of extras at the game, but you really don't need them. They will do the "kiss cam" like they do in a lot of stadiums in the US. One thing I like is that they give the teams only 2 minutes between innings to be ready. There is a clock on the scoreboard that counts down as soon as the third out is made in an inning. They really try to move the games along which is a nice change.
Perhaps the biggest extra and something you don't see everyday at a baseball game are the cheerleaders. Part of the fun is waiting to see what their next wardrobe change will be. They dance and lead chants, but will also help out with contests for fans between a few of the innings. It's definitely a different twist at a game.
This is one of my favorite stadiums in Korea. It is small enough to allow you to get close to the action, but big enough not to feel small. It's definitely a place where you will want to see a game when in Seoul. So grab some friends, get some food, and come on out for a great time. You will not be disappointed when visiting Mokdong Baseball Stadium.
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