"You can't sit here!" was the instruction from a Hanwha Eagles employee who was keen to remove undesirables from the player entrance.
This was the exact moment that I pretty much gave up hope of being able to attract Hanwha players to work with the Team Jokbal charity. I feared that despite a previous diplomatic meeting with Wilin Rosario in Incheon 2 weeks earlier, I had failed on this part of the mission. I felt awful for precisely 10 seconds. These 10 seconds seemed like an eternity. I seemed to have had enough time to think about how to break the news to my Team Jokbal team mates and how to sincerely think about my apology to my good friends Andrew and Camille who had accompanied me on this mission. However, the whole world was about to change. Thankfully!
So what led to those crucial 10 seconds?
Before that moment, I had been at Hanbat Park patiently waiting for Wilin Rosario to show up and honor the promise he made to me in Incheon 2 weeks earlier. Wilin had long been stated as a priority target of Team Jokbal, partly out of respect for his talents and partly because we feel that his items will raise a lot of money at the charity auction. This was also my first meeting with my oldest friends in Korea for over 6 months. They had been at home. I had missed them awfully and I had rather hoped that our reunion had been at a nice restaurant while catching up over some beers. Not to be. Instead our reunion happened to be unreasonably early on a Saturday morning in a busy and humid parking lot filled with autograph hunters and short on places to sit down. Both Andrew and Camille will identify as Hanwha fans and I think that it is fair to say that Andrew is becoming very attached and passionate about his beloved Eagles, so they were quite keen for a chance to meet star hitter Rosario.
We waited and met some of the local fans who informed us that Wilin would arrive soon but don't hold up hope was the repeated message. The ardent fans and dedicated autograph hunters had no memories of Wilin signing anything for anyone. I assured them that I had spoken to him and had felt that he was a good man. Despite their stories, I retained hope. But time kept passing and it really started to feel that he may have slipped through our fingers. The one that got away. Then hope! A scooter appeared with the imposing figure of Rosario riding it. He immediately recognized me and called out to me. "Hey my man! I will see you in a little bit!" he cried out. The regulars started to believe that they might just be about to meet their hero. They started asking us if we could get him to sign things for them. We made no promises. Firstly, we were in no position to make promises. Secondly, having seen how intrusive Korean super fans can be, I can appreciate why players try to take avoiding measures. There are some messed up people out there and some interesting stories!
Anyway, hope is a dangerous thing! Now we knew he was there and seemingly willing to meet, we dared not go to the bathroom nor go to get lunch. We had had a few beers at this point and it is fair to say that for all of us a bathroom trip was desirable. We were all starving. Non of us had eaten breakfast. I felt embarrassed at what bad day I believed my friends may now be having. Camille thankfully volunteered to go to McDonalds to pick up lunch. That improved the mood. Andrew and I prowled multiple VIP and player entrances in the hope that Wilin would appear soon. Time kept ticking. I was feeling progressively worse.
Then came a point where we pretty much gave up. We got more beers and decided to sulk in the shade outside the VIP lounge and get on with our day. This is when the defining 10 seconds, the moment of truth was to come our way.
The Defining Moment
We were told that we could no longer sit where we were sulking. But suddenly Camille tried to explain what we were doing and it seemed to be getting some traction but it didn't raise my spirits as I had dealt with so many security personnel with a Hitler complexes and egos the size of the grand canyon. Out of the blue, a question was asked. The answer would shape the day and success would depend on it.
We were asked "Are you Rosario's friends?" While we didn't straight up lie, we did skirt the honest truth... a lot. Instead we offered a picture of me with Rosario and insisted that he agreed to me. We didn't lie but we knew that we were happy for the poor lady to make her own assumptions based on sketchy intel. To our mutual amazement she invited us to come in. Now we had to play it cool and make a new plan.
A Second Chance - The Player's Lounge
Now we were in the player's lounge. Us! 3 random people with plastic cups full of cheap beer. What should we do? Take our second chance!!!
We kept our composure as we watched lots of Hanwha heroes wonder past us in their underwear. We saw players flirting with kit ladies and groupies. We saw a lot of players eating apples and playing cellphone games. We had to resist any urge to get star struck or act impressed. We had to resist getting any balls or jerseys signed. We were drinking in what really felt like the last chance saloon... well VIP lounge.
Again we waited. And then another hero came forward. Arise Son Gwang Min, Hanwha 3rd baseman and friendly eccentric chap. Finally, a player came to talk to us, we no longer looked out of place. Son read our Korean Team Jokbal notice and decided to help. He signed balls and then tracked down the player interpreter for us. The interpreter in turn agreed to bring Rosario to us. Song got back to his cellphone games and became a keen observer of what happened next.
Finally a roar of "Hey! What's up my man?" boomed down the walkway from the locker room. It was the unmistakable presence of Wilin Rosario. After a brief chat, Wilin went back to the locker room and promised to return with the goods. He said it would be 5 minutes. It turned out to be a bit longer but we no longer cared. We all now wore ear to ear grins. I no longer felt that burden of shame but now a deep feeling of gratitude to Andrew and especially Camille for keeping the faith. That faith was rewarded as 3 fully kitted out players approached us with sack full of goods. Rosario had coerced his teammates Alexi Ogando and Carlos Villanueva to help. Although Carlos and Alexi seemed confused, Wilin got them in order. There was little time remaining for explanations as they were being ordered to fan a event. I guess it is hard to explain in Spanish that some British guy will give you some Korean pig feet for your shoes and it will help charity but Rosario managed to do it and for that Team Jokbal is forever grateful to our new recruit who went on to have a decent game after being introduced in the 6th inning due to recent injuries.
Team Jokbal is also grateful for the help, dedication, time and diplomatic work from Andrew and Camille Ignacio. You deserve to be at least honorary Jokbals from this day forward! Sorry, yet again, about all the waiting!
So finally, we have "The Hanwha Heroes Haul". We will try our best to get as much as we can to help the children!
The last weekend for Team Jokbal was a great one as we took to Jamsil Stadium early in the morning to catch some players about collecting items for the charity auction. We had previously spoken to Henry Sosa (LG Twins) about picking up a few items and we had also arranged to meet Michael Bowden (Doosan Bears) once again to pick up a few items.
While waiting at the stadium, we were able to catch Henry and he went in and grabbed some things for us from the locker room. Shortly after, we were able to catch up with David Huff (LG Twins) and have a short chat with him about what we are working to do, which is to collect signed player-used gear that will be auctioned off in December with the proceeds going to kids in orphanages and less fortunate areas in Korea. Without hesitation and with the same kindness we have gotten from all players thus far, Dave said that he was in and would be happy to give us some items for the auction.
Over the next few days, we were able to get in touch with Dave once again and he let us know that he would leave a box of things with security so that we could pick it up on Wednesday night. After work on Wednesday, we were able to swing by Jamsil to grab the box and catch a Lotte vs. Doosan game. We picked up the box after a little confusion by the staff. I guess it could be confusing since it was a Lotte vs. Doosan game and there were 2 guys there, wearing Doosan jerseys, asking to pick up a box from David Huff of the LG Twins. I guess the funniest part came just before the security guard went to get the box. He looked at me strangely and said, "You're Huff's friend? Did he leave you tickets?" A few seconds later he returned with the box and we headed over to put it in the car.
We didn't really take a look in the box until we returned home that night and what we found was amazing. He had hooked us up with a home and away signed jersey, a signed icing shirt, and a nice body length LG jacket. They are some really great items and we a confident that they will help raise a lot for charity.
In closing, there is little more to be said about Dave other than he is a great and welcoming guy that's a great pitcher and ambassador for his team and the KBO. He really cares about the community and the sport and that can easily be seen from his contribution.
This is might be a big moment for Team Jokbal, maybe one we never really expected to happen. Something we aimed for but never really believed would happen. I still can't believe that it has happened.
In case you haven't heard yet, Team Jokbal has finally managed to collect items or received pledges from all KBO member teams.
The feat was finally achieved by a determined weekend of campaigning. On Saturday, an 8hour camp out at Jamsil stadium led to LG delivering their goods and a truly special item being donated by Michael Bowden and his Doosan team mates. (Read Andrew Dunham's soon to be published contribution about that day.) All I will say is that left us with 2 teams to go. Hanhwa and SK! Guess what? Those 2 were set to play each other the next day at the Happy Dream Park in Incheon.
Well fate is a beautiful thing. As luck had it, my fiancé (then my girlfriend), won 2 VIP tickets for that game earlier in the week. However, she knew nothing of my marriage proposal planned for Saturday night. So after a 10 hour stake out, a game, a marriage proposal and an engagement celebration that went on till 3am, Min and I headed to the Happy Dream Park.
Initially, the day seemed destined to end in disappointment. An underground VIP parking lot seemingly blocking any chance to talk to players. Not to be deterred, I bought some Cass and decided to explore. With beer as my guide, I managed to find the underground player entrance. but only to find out that all the players had arrived. Disaster!
But then, up popped the Hanhwa team bus and came an encounter with our No1 target, Wilin Rosario, the Hanhwa home run hitting machine.
Wilin is a big dude and a powerful hitter but nothing prepares you for just the softly spoken gentleman that he is... oh I forgot, he was recently caught reading a book in the middle of game that he was playing in. He immediately walked up to me and shook my hand and offered his help with our cause. Extremely nice guy! Success!
Despite the positive experience with Rosario, there was still a feeling of disappointment. Failure even. 1 team remained and I had failed, blown my chance. I felt that we would go in with a glaring omission from our work. Completeness was a requirement. No matter how much other players and teams had given us, the inability to get anything from SK felt like a real failure.
To celebrate the engagement news Blake Sibley and Rae Lanczak came and joined us to drink Maekguli before the game. Still on a huge high from the night before and with good friends I was quickly able to get over this disappointment. However, the maekguli may have fueled what happened next.
Something had to be done!
Luckily our VIP seats afforded us a chance. A long shot but enough of a chance. I was determined to take advantage. Their location made one last crack possible.
Struggling to see any other options, being reasonably drunk, I decided to take a risk. I took advantage of a change of security in the sixth inning stretch and ran to the edge of the dugout. I shouted and got the attention of Trey Hillman. He initially looked pissed that I dare bother him during a game. I don't blame him! I really didn't want to do things this way. It isn't the Team Jombal way! We try not to interrupt too much and let everybody get on with their job. However, in this case I saw no better option. I am sorry but I don't regret it! Hillman agreed to meet at the end of the game and it looked like the mission may finally be accomplished.
Coach Hillman kept his word, no matter the drunk jackass I appeared to be and he went into the locker room and fetched us a jersey and another box that he had signed. I was on the bus home when I realized that it was a bible. Yes! A signed bible! Definitely the most unusual item in our stockpile but still very much appreciated! Thanks Coach Hillman!
So now Team Jokbal has a pledge or has received some kind of item from every single team. As long as some players and teams keep their word, we will have succeeded. We aren't tempting fate yet but given how well things have gone, we are very optimistic of being able to raise a lot of money for good causes. We will continue to pick up what we can for our auction as that will raise us more money but for now it is great knowing that we have reached all teams. 1 more month of regular season to go, the collection grows
A few days prior to leaving for vacation Team Jokbal able to catch up with Pat Dean at Jamsil Stadium to make arrangements to get a few things from the KIA Tigers for the auction. While I was gone we ended up working out that a jokballer would be able to go down and grab some stuff while he attended a weekend series in Gwangju.
He was able to meet up with Pat, Roger, and Hector to get some awesome stuff. In the end we have a pair of signed cleats from all 3, a couple of signed hats from Pat, a couple of signed balls from Pat, and a signed bat from Roger. They are some great items and I'm sure they will help to raise a lot of money in December.
Honestly, it's great to meet these guys and work with them for charity. They have all been really cool and generous. We couldn't do what we are doing without them and it's great to be working with them to help out kids in South Korea.
Here is a look at the items that we got from the players
Thanks again, guys! You are all awesome and have really helped us out!
"Where are you? I can't see you." My friend Jong Hwan Hong shouted down the phone. "I am with Roger in the parking lot." Was my matter of fact response. "Who? I can't find you." he continued. "Come to the crowd in front of the main entrance. I'm with Bernadina. Give us 5 minutes."
At the time of the call, I really don't think that my friend believed where I was or who I was with. It was raining, the kind of rain that makes you think that God may have just ordered 2 of every animal onto a boat. The game had long since been called off and my friend was coming to pick me to go for a night out. He really didn't want to get out of the car. I don't blame him. Even if I was meeting the sensation that is Roger "The Shark" Bernadina, surely a quick selfie and signature would only take but a moment. Why would he want to stand in this pouring rain? Roger may even be gone by the time he reached me.
The truth is Roger, had spoken to me about the whole Team Jokbal campaign and felt that he could help. Much to my amazement, he told me to "Just wait 5 minutes. I'll be back."I was genuinely shocked since I was pretty sure that I appeared pretty inebriated. I was drunk. (Something to do with a family gathering under a bridge). Bernadina would have been well within his rights to have just ran away from my drunk ass. Thankfully, I had been able to flash a pair of Pat Dean's shoes that he had given to me earlier in the day. That seemed to have worked as some kind of secret handshake or show of good faith. The curious crowd that was amassing around the entrance was actually upset with me. Some felt that they had missed their chance to meet their hero. I explained in Korean and English that he would come back. The drunk foreigner was being cursed for sure!
I knew he would! Team Jokbal has seen him sign for so many fans so far this season. He is a true role model but some of the folks there didn't know him so well even if they had good cause to be suspicious of myself.
Almost exactly 5 minutes later, Roger reappeared with his arms full. By this time, Hong was calling again, wondering what was going on. He had made it to the back of the crowd. At that time, Roger had taken me behind the security cordon and presented me with a signed, prized bat aong with a pair of his own game worn shoes. He also had a nice bonus! He had managed to get league leading pitcher Hector Noesi to contribute to the campaign. So then we took our pictures together to affirm the authenticity of the items for the auction and we said our goodbyes. I emerged from the crowd, and finally ran into my buddy. A little annoyed by my delay and the fact that he had to get out into the rain, he then realized what had happened and we got into the car and went off to celebrate.
I knew he would! Team Jokbal has seen him sign for so many fans so far this season. He is a true role model but some of the folks there didn't know him so well even if they had good cause to be suspicious of myself.
KIA nor LG had been able to record a victory at Champions Field that day but Team Jokbal was a clear winner. Had there not been a rain delay, this haul may not have been possible. We would have got our much discussed package from Pat Dean (see previous jokbal blog contributions) but these were surprise additions. The purpose of the visit had been to meet with Pat and pick up some items that he had been saving for us. And it had been a pleasure to have met Pat again and the day had been all about him until the last 10 minutes. I had been asked to sign his autograph in return for a free taxi ride and I had been asked why was "Pat Dean drinking beer at 7.11 before a game." Korean people of Gwangju seem not to grasp that I am not Pat Dean and I look nothing like him! When I met Pat, he had managed to rustle up some game hats, signed balls and the pair of shoes that acted as the secret password with Hector and Bernadina.
Anyway, thanks to the KIA boys for adding to our growing collection! We know that their good work will definitely help to do some good! Oh and thanks to Hong for waiting... I hope you understand!
Team Jokbal was fortunate enough to be able to go to the Doosan Bears vs. KT Wiz game last night (July 5, 2017) and catch up with Michael Bowden for a few minutes before the start of the game. I was meeting him to get him to sign the jersey that he had previously given to us for the auction and to get a Jamsil Stadium print signed by some players for the auction. To my surprise, he came out to meet me with a signed Dustin Nippert jersey. He let me know that Dustin was more than happy to help out by contributing.
Dustin is well known within the community for helping out kids and he even provides tickets to groups of kids to come to the games once a month. A truly great and generous guy that does all that he can to help the community and the kids.
In addition to getting the signed Nippert jersey, I was able to talk a little more with him about what Team Jokbal is working to do and get him to sign his jersey. I was also able to get the print of Jamsil Stadium, done by my friend Andy, into his hands to get some players to sign it. I will be picking the print up from him at a later date. Once it is signed, I will also be posting about it.
Players like Dustin and Michael are the reason that we can do what we are doing and we are honored to be able to work with such great guys! Thanks guys!
Check back often for more updates from Team Jokbal.
With our bags packed with clothes, signs, wigs, modified sombreros, and an inflatable shark (shout out to "The Shark" Roger Bernadina), Team Jokbal took to the road for a weekend trip to Masan Stadium to see the NC Dinos vs. KIA Tigers with a stop off at Jamsil for the Doosan Bears vs. Lotte Giants on Friday night. While most of us (3 members live in the mountainous countryside of Korea) have to take to the road pretty much every week to catch games, Jamsil is more or less our central location and where we spend most of our time. However, we like to sprinkle a bit of love and fun at other stadiums around Korea when schedules line up. Also, on the road is where we have had most of our success. We picked up the Michael Bowden jersey during a road series for the Doosan Bears at SK Happy Dream Park (Munhak Stadium) in Incheon.
It was an epic weekend of laughs, smiles, jokbal, charity, and baseball. I was able to have a bit of a chat on Friday night with Jeff Manship about collecting some signed items from him that Saturday in Masan. He told me to just let him know when we made it to the stadium and he would meet us during a break with some things. So after a great night of spreading the Team Jokbal message at Jamsil and a bit of sleep, we hit the train at 9 a.m. to make our way to Masan.
After arriving at Masan Stadium around 1 p.m. we messaged Jeff and got to work setting up for the day. Our setup involved getting our shark ready for Roger Bernadina and Jokballer Tony making repairs to his sombrero. Shortly after getting everything ready we headed over to the player entrance to meet Jeff and get in a few words with Roger Bernadina and Pat Dean upon the KIA bus arrival.
Around 1:30 Jeff was able to get a break and bring out some awesome stuff for us. He gave us a pair of his signed cleats, a signed ball, a Na Sung-bum signed bat, and a Kang Jin-sung signed bat. We also had a chance to get him to pose with a pack of jokbal.
We cannot say enough good things about Jeff. He is an awesome guy that cares and takes care of his fans. During our chat and item exchange we were able to see his interactions with some of kids. He is truly a class act and we are very happy to have been able to meet him for the first time a couple of weeks ago.
Shortly after Jeff headed back into the stadium the KIA bus arrived and we prepared to meet and great Roger with the shark and Pat with a pack of jokbal. Tony got a chance to get the shark signed by Bernadina so that we can place it in the auction and I had a minute or 2 with Dean to present him with a pack of jokbal and explain a bit more about items we are looking to collect from the players. Dean, also a top notch guy, said he would be sure to get some things together so that we could pick them up in the near future.
After that we headed into the stadium to make a few pregame jokbal shouts and watch the warmups. During one of our shouts, KIA catcher, Kim Min-sik looked up at us and had a little laugh as we held up our signs and a pack of jokbal. We haven't been able to officially confirm, but we have a feeling that he may have eaten the pack of jokbal that we handed off to Pat.
In the end it was a great weekend and a great trip. Before closing, we would like send a big thanks to Jeff for the items and a big thanks to Na Sung-bum and Kang Jin-sung for the signed bats. Also, a big thanks goes out to Roger Bernadina and Pat Dean. You are all Team Jokballers in our book!
It all started with a photo taken in Japan during spring practice with the KIA Tigers. As soon as I saw that photo of Pat Dean wearing a Mario hat, I thought that he had to be a pretty cool guy.
With time and once again working our way around social media, we were able to get our message out to Mr. Dean about collecting items to be auctioned for charity. I suspect our gift of a red wig to accompany his Mario hat also made an outstanding impression
In the end Mr. Dean said that he would be more than happy to help out and send some stuff our way. As soon as we get some things I will be sure to come back with a post of the items to keep everyone updated.
From Team Jokbal, a huge thanks goes out to you Mr. Dean for your kindness to offer to help out! It's great guys like you that are making this possible!
If some of you are wondering more about Team Jokbal you can check out our first post explaining our mission.
Since we just got the blog up and running this week, I am going back and filling in some of the stuff about our Jokbal Campaign to raise money to buy sports equipment for kids. Now that most of you have hopefully read the first post explaining how Team Jokbal and the Jokbal Campaign came about, I am here to talk about some of the items that we have so far and pledges that we have from some KBO players.
The first person to donate to us was Michael Bowden, a pitcher for the Doosan Bears. On the weekend of April 22~23, me and a couple of other Team Jokbal members made our way out to SK Happy Dream Park (aka Munhak Stadium) to catch a couple of games of the SK Wyverns vs. Doosan Bears series. For a couple of months prior to this weekend we had been working social media and trying to get in touch with some of the KBO players to explain what we were doing and hopefully get some donations or game used gear to auction to raise funds for purchasing equipment for kids.
Finally, on April 23rd, the work paid off and we got our first item from Michael Bowden. As Michael was walking across the field, near the dugout, I let out a "What's up Big Mike?" He turned to me and happened to recognize me from previous social media posts and said "Are you the guy that's trying to get the jerseys for kids?" In a lot of joy, I said "that's us" and he told me to hold on for a minute. He made his way over to the Bears dugout and came back with one of his jerseys and handed it across the netting.
It was great and we were really excited to finally have some players realizing who we were and what we were working to do. I have been to many games and that will always be one of the most memorable games for me. That one and the night of Michael's no-hitter when I got so excited that I took the subway in the wrong direction and missed my bus home and had to stay at a motel for the night.
I have said it a few times before on my other blog and in person, but I will say it once again. Thanks, Mr. Bowden! You are a great guy with your heart in the right place. We couldn't achieve what we are working to achieve without players such as you!
There are some fans out there that see some weird looking foreigners holding up signs with Team Jokbal (팀족발) written on them or walking around wearing jerseys that have things such as 두산족발 (Doosan Jokbal), 기아족발 (KIA Jokbal), KT족발 (KT Jokbal), and 팀족발 (Team Jokbal) written on them. There is also one that wears colorful wigs to the games, primarily green ones. Sorry, that was a bit of a shout out to me as the green wig wearer.
There are a lot of laughs, smiles, and stares and it's honestly a great thing. It is serving the purpose of making people happy and providing a bit of quirky amusement at games. It's not that KBO games really need to be any more exciting or fun because they are already great, but at least we are doing our part to bring a little more joy to the stands.
Now comes a question that many are probably wondering. Where does the idea of Team Jokbal actually come from? Last year there was a bit of a joke going around within our group about what some of the KBO players might eat after a game to celebrate a big win or a well played game. For some reason we could just imagine players sitting around a table scarfing down big platters of jokbal (pig's feet) and having a few glasses of beer or soju. Why jokbal? To be honest, the better question is why not jokbal? It's a great Korean dish that seems to be highly underrated among foreigners and it's simply delicious.
As a result we decided it would be amusing to get custom jerseys made with jokbal written on the backs. After all, getting custom jerseys done in Korea is pretty easy and very common among the fans. You will see everything from couples wearing jerseys that highlight their relationship status to others wearing custom jerseys that pay homage to their favorite players.
Now on to the most important question about Team Jokbal and the driving factor behind its existence. Does Team Jokbal serve any purpose other than being fun? What most don't know, beyond the comical factor, is that it also serves another purpose. After a friend and fellow Team Jokbal member came across an article about Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos giving away a shirt in exchange for a tray of pork, we thought that we could probably swing something in similar fashion in Korea with jokbal and the KBO. The result has been us offering to give players a plate of Jokbal in exchange for game used jerseys, hats, bats, helmets, etc.
You may now be wondering "what will Team Jokbal be doing with these items that they collect?" While we are fans and collectors that would love to keep these items to add to our personal sports collections, we decided that we could use these items to bring even more joy and fun to others. This lead us to deciding to offer these items for auction in the winter at a fan charity auction and use the proceeds to purchase sports equipment for students in poor areas and orphanages around South Korea.
In the short time since deciding to pursue this cause, we have managed to make some connections with some players (Michael Bowden, Pat Dean, and Jeff Manship) that have already donated or will donate and they have also started spreading the message to other players. The KBO is full of a bunch of great guys and I am happy that we are getting to work with some of them to get equipment for kids because we have seen and experienced the joy and benefits that sports can bring to young people. Hopefully with continued work and contributions we can help fill a void by purchasing and donating equipment so that kids get a chance to play a game of catch or hit their first home run. Who knows? They may be future KBOers themselves. At the very least it will provide some healthy fun and memories for them.
Check back often as we will begin to post some of the stories and items here in the future. Thanks for reading and the support!
A group of guys enjoying the KBO and raising money for orphanages.